Facing a Florida Panthers team well out of the playoff picture after a back-to-back, the Montreal Canadiens needed to deliver. Carey Price once again got the start as the Habs looked to solidify their hold on a playoff spot at home.
The first period began with a bit of a scramble, and some time in the defensive zone, but Price stayed firm as Montreal got their legs underneath them. A hard-working shift from Brendan Gallagher and Shea Weber allowed them to counter-attack.
Price made a couple of big saves, and then Paul Byron got into a weird fight against MacKenzie Weegar that clearly did some damage. It was the last time we saw Byron in the game.
The league's second best power play got a chance to put the Panthers up on a Tomas Tatar penalty, but the Canadiens’ killers weathered the storm, and it was Tatar who got revenge by striking first on a rocket at 6:58.
Jeff Petry's assist on the goal set a new career high of 43 points, one better than last year’s total. It was just the latest example of the Habs’ excellent passing, which continued to be quite crisp through the period.
In addition to the passing, Montreal dominated in possession, which paid off in a big way as Jesperi Kotkaniemi wheeled through the zone, passed off the puck from behind the net, and Brett Kulak wired home his fifth of the season.
The Habs kept their foot on the gas, and Tatar scored his second of the period at 14:28 right off the faceoff on the rebound of Weber's shot. James Reimer's night came to an end after the goal, and though Florida challenged, it seemed more for the purpose of slowing down the game than for an actual appeal of the goal call. The night after getting yanked after four-and-a-half minutes in Toronto, Sam Montembeault took over the net.
Evgenii Dadonov got in on a breakaway, but Price remained calm and collected. Florida was whistled for a penalty soon afterward, giving Montreal a chance to really break the game open, but the power play looked anemic, and Gallagher took a penalty with 3:12 to go — possibly all for the best, however, considering how the Habs’ power play was looking.
When the period came to an end, Montreal led 3-0, with shots 14-11 for Florida.
Vincent Trocheck came out sharp with a one-on-none, but Price was sharper to begin the second. He followed that up with another absolutely stellar save on Dadonov’s three-on-two chance not long thereafter when Florida returned to full strength.
After Price saved their bacon, Artturi Lehkonen returned the favour, blasting his 10th past the Panthers’ youthful goalie. Shaw got his second assist of the night, on a very similar move.
Christian Folin laid a huge hit on Troy Brouwer, and the latter took exception. The two dropped the gloves with 12:31 to go.
Montreal absolutely refused to take a shift off as the game hit the halfway point, causing turnovers, maintaining puck possession in the offensive zone, and getting some really good looks, most notably one from Kotkaniemi. Montreal forced Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad to stay out on the ice for a punishing minute-plus with the dominance of their zone time.
It all paid off (or rather, continued to pay off) as Danault whacked a rebound past Montembeault for goal number five.
Even after the goal, Montreal kept skating, Max Domi backchecking furiously to break up a play, and Victor Mete having a furious shift in front of the Panthers’ net.
As the second drew to a close, Price didn't have a lot of work, but every time he was called upon, he was exceptional.
In the final 18 seconds, the Panthers flew in, but though Gallagher took a penalty, he negated what was building into a fairly dangerous looking scoring chance.
Though the Panthers continued to (narrowly) hold on to the shot advantage, it was the only place where they held any kind of lead. The period (and the game) belonged solidly to the Habs.
Mike Hoffman and the white-hot Panthers power play found themselves stymied by Price in the opening of the third, but the team did make it 5-1 on the back end of the advantage. The bigger problem, however, was that Price got up very slowly.
After that goal, Montreal settled right back down, and while they were not, perhaps, as dominant as they had been in the second, they did tip the scales back in their favour.
With 8:12 to go, Domi scored his 27th of the year on a lethal snipe for the sixth of the night.
When the final buzzer went, Montreal had soundly thrashed the Panthers, officially eliminating them from playoff contention in front of a very appreciative home crowd.
Now they just have to keep it going, because their biggest test is coming on Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.