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Canadiens vs. Panthers game recap: Fourth-line competitors shine in comeback win

Ryan Poehling’s highlight-reel assist capped off a strong game by a number of Montreal’s bottom-six options.

NHL at Kraft Hockeyville Canada Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/NHLI via Getty Images

The Canadiens were riding high heading into their Kraft Hockeyville showdown with the Florida Panthers on the back of a strong showing on Monday night against the New Jersey Devils. Their lineup heading into the clash with their Atlantic rivals contained plenty of NHL players, and gave a focus to a number of players jockeying for a potential NHL job as well. The game saw the debut of Alex Belzile in an NHL conpetition, and the Rocket MVP was looking to make a good impression.

The goaltending duties were handled by Charlie Lindgren, who was trying to match the performance of Cayden Primeau from Monday night.

It wasn’t the same quick start that the Canadiens enjoyed against New Jersey, but they still managed to maintain the early pressure. The fourth line of Matthew Peca, Jake Evans, and Belzile kept the puck in with smart passing and great cycle play, holding the Panthers in their own end. Even with a few poor passing attempts in their own end, the Canadiens backchecked hard to break up plays, including Charles Hudon rushing back to break up a Henrik Borgstrom chance.

It was the Evans line that eventually broke the deadlock, and the young centre kicked the whole thing off behind his own net. His pass to Otto Leskinen started the Montreal breakout before Evans collected a return pass as he broke into the Panthers’ zone. Evans then zipped a pass to Belzile, who sent a perfect pass to Peca who had only to tap the puck home for the opening goal.

A slashing call on Jesperi Kotkaniemi brought out the vaunted Panthers power play, but active sticks and timely blocks held the NHL’s second-best man advantage a season ago off the board, and pretty well in check during the minor penalty. Jonathan Drouin gave them another chance as he was sent to the box for interference, but again the Montreal penalty kill stood tall.

Even with Drouin out of the box, the top power-play unit kept Montreal hemmed into their own zone. With Ben Chiarot attempting to clear out the front of the net, the puck bounced away from him, and Evgenii Dadonov jumped all over it to tie the game at one goal apiece.

A late push by Montreal at the end of the period would not yield a goal, and the two sides headed into the intermission tied.

Much like the first period, the opening minutes of the second did not hold much in terms of an attack for either side. Also like the first, it would be a line of likely AHL players who made the first impact. Riley Barber battled through a board battle, dumping his opponent while forcing the puck behind the net. Barber’s efforts got the puck to Jeff Petry at the point, and the defenceman fired a hard, low shot that took a very drastic deflection and ended up in the net.

Montreal kept the pressure on, and gained their first power play of the night as Joel Armia blew by Aaron Ekblad forcing him into a hooking penalty. The power play, almost predictably, led to nothing of note, and Peca would take a penalty of his own shortly after.

The Panthers’ power play needed just a minute to strike thanks to Mike Hoffman’s shot, leaving the teams tied with just over half the period gone.

The Canadiens drew another power-play chance, coming as the result of a hit from behind on Ryan Poehling by Dryden Hunt. The rookie Habs forward had played the puck up the boards and Hunt blasted him from the blind side. The man advantage again failed to inspire much confidence as the Panthers got the best chances while short-handed, and Montreal failed to generate much at all. With the power play over the two sides headed into the intermission, tied once again.

The final period saw the Panthers take their first lead after Montreal’s bottom six took the pressure to them early on. A delayed call created some havoc in Montreal’s zone as Petry finished his check behind the net and Ben Chiarot battled out in front. Chiarot got caught paying more attention to the referee than his man, and Jonathan Huberdeau took advantage to give Florida a third-period lead.

From there, the Canadiens put their foot down and took the fight to a Panthers team determined to get the win. It was again the unexpected players making the biggest impact late in the game. A beautiful indirect pass from Jeff Petry kickstarted the game-tying goal as his banked pass found its way to Barber. Barber cut through the middle of the Panthers’ defence and fired an off-balance shot that beat Chris Driedger as he was screened a bit by Nick Cousins crashing the net.

A Jake Evans hooking penalty threatened to take the wind out of Montreal’s sails. but instead it was the spark for the game-winning goal. An aggressive play by Poehling forced the puck out of the zone, and he took off with Belzile riding shotgun into the Florida zone. Poehling then showed off his slick hands as he toe-dragged Aaron Ekblad into next week before firing a pass for Belzile to tap home for a short-handed tally.

Ekblad’s no good, very bad period wouldn’t end there as his penalty late all but sealed the win for Montreal as the Canadiens ran out the final two-and-a-half minutes for a second consecutive victory.

Montreal and Florida won’t rest for long. The two teams will play again tomorrow night, with fresh lineups expected for both sides.