The Canadiens headed into south Florida on Monday night to face Reto Berra and the Panthers for the second time in five days. This time, though, the Habs would be backstopped by recent call-up Charlie Lindgren playing in his second career NHL game as Al Montoya continues to heal. Nikita Nesterov would draw in for the injured Shea Weber and Michael McCarron would be replaced on the fourth line by Steve Ott.
The game opened with a great scoring chances for Jeff Petry and Max Pacioretty but Berra was ready.
So too was Lindgren when he was forced to make his first save, after a Nesterov turnover lead to a golden opportunity for the Panthers. Florida continued to put pressure on the Habs but a quick stick by Alexei Emelin cleared the zone, leading to a scoring chance for the Canadiens.
As the period waned, the Canadiens began playing a little loose, getting caught in their own end, but Lindgren was able to stand tall (or rather, go down low) and make the save.
Almost immediately afterwards, Alex Galchenyuk took a shot from behind the net, the rebound bouncing out to the slow where Andrew Shaw was able to rip the puck past Berra to give the Habs a 1-0 lead.
Early in the second period, a Paul Byron shot off the post was sandwiched between two Petry scoring chances but, despite some good pressure, the Habs couldn’t get the bounces to go their way.
A barrage of shots in close provided Lindgren with his first big test of the evening but the recently recalled netminder held the fort and the lead.
Not for long though as, after a scramble play in the neutral zone, Jonathan Marchessault was able to put the puck past a sprawling Lindgren, who had been knocked down after Nathan Beaulieu was pushed into the crease.
The Panthers seized the momentum from their game-tying goal, highlighted by a Jonathan Huberdeau breakaway, but Lindgren was able to get a piece of it with his glove. Play continued rapidly up and down the ice until some pressure in Florida’s end provided Montreal with the first powerplay of the game when Derek MacKenzie sat for holding Alex Radulov.
Florida and Montreal traded scoring chances on Montreal’s powerplay but both goalies kept the score tied at 1 after the two minutes. The Panthers would get their turn with the man advantage shortly after when Shaw was called for delay of game as the puck was knocked over the glass as he swiped at it with his glove.
Just one minute into the penalty, Phillip Danault was called for hooking Jaromir Jagr providing the Panthers with over a minute of 5-on-3.
The Habs managed to kill the first penalty with the help of a big shot block by Emelin and the remainder of the second penalty with another timely block by Brandon Davidson. With just over a minute remaining in the period, Danault and Michael Sgarbossa scuffled right off the faceoff until both dropped the gloves for a short but feisty bout to end the second.
Early in the third, another block by Emelin lead to a near-miss by Shaw as he tried to tip a Pacioretty pass as the two drove the net.
Just moments later, Artturi Lehkonen let a wrist shot go from the top of the hashmarks that sped past an unsuspecting Berra to restore the Canadiens’ one goal lead.
Florida responded with sustained pressure in the offensive zone but the Habs emerged unscathed.
Later in the period, Radulov would draw a slashing penalty by driving the net, giving the Habs another chance with the man advantage. Florida would get the best opportunities though, first with a shorthanded 3-on-1 ending in a Vincent Trochek shot off the crossbar, then a nifty glove save by Lindgren on a Colton Sceviour wrist shot.
With just 3 minutes left, Byron ducked coverage for a clear breakaway, missing his shot wide; the rebound from the boards, however, bounced right to a streaking Lehkonen who one-timed the shot past Berra for his second of the night, extending the Habs’ lead to two.
The Panthers pulled their goaltender with two minutes left but Radulov would seal the deal with an empty netter from centre ice just thirty seconds later. Max Pacioretty’s assist on the goal would help the captain match his career high of 67 points in a season, with 3 games still to go.
The Canadiens’ 46th win gives them 101 points on the season and the Atlantic Division title, their first round matchup with the New York Rangers secured.