The goaltenders were in focus ahead of Saturday’s game in Sunrise, Florida. Montreal native Roberto Luongo became the first player in Florida Panthers franchise history to have his jersey retired. Meanwhile, Charlie Lindgren got another shot to prove himself to be the long-term solution as Montreal’s backup netminder. With Sergei Bobrovsky out due to injury, Florida elected to start Chris Driedger in net. The 25-year-old is even more unproven than Lindgren, making just his 10th NHL start Saturday night.
Brendan Gallagher was back in the lineup, retaking his usual spot as right-winger on the top line; this time flanked by Phillip Danault and Artturi Lehkonen as Tomas Tatar was still out with an injury.
The crowd in Florida got to witness an early power play for the home team, as Christian Folin received a minor penalty for tripping. The Panthers did not get adequate results from the power play, but did take command early on, testing Lindgren from near and far with the Montreal goalie winning every duel during the first period.
Offensively for the Habs, Charles Hudon, playing on the second line next to Nick Suzuki, had a promising start to the game with a couple of snappy wrist shots which unfortunately were stopped by Driedger.
Early on in the second, Florida could easily have scored the first goal. A faulty pass by Suzuki eventually gave Frank Vatrano open space for a shot from just outside the crease. Lindgren, however, continued his strong night with a reflex save.
The Canadiens had a chance of their own to break the tie when Max Domi got loose for a one-on-one against Driedger. The hand-eye coordination was not on point and the goalie made the stop for the Panthers. Minutes later, Domi would become the next player to visit the penalty box after the referees called a dubious slashing minor on the Habs centreman.
Just as the penalty was over, Florida took the lead. Lucas Wallmark received a no-look deflection pass from Noel Acciari, faked the shot, and placed it in over Lindgren with the backhander. It was Wallmark’s 12th of the year and his first after being traded from Carolina two weeks ago.
Montreal needed a break of some kind and got it when Dominic Toninato high-sticked Joel Armia and received a double-minor. The lengthy five-on-four turned into more than a minute of five-on-three, after Aaron Ekblad also got called for high-sticking. The efficiency on Canadiens’ man advantage has been nonexistent as of late. This time around, they at least managed to grab the lead in the shot column with six fired against Driedger. The drought does continue nevertheless.
Florida finished the period with a late power play of their own after Montreal got punished for having too many men on the ice. That power play ended with a bang as MacKenzie Weegar unleashed a slapshot from the point to make it 2-0 Panthers just as the Habs were getting back to even strength.
In a span of five seconds, Lindgren managed to demonstrate both his strengths and his weaknesses as a goaltending option. First, he came out to stop Mike Hoffman from scoring, cutting off all angles and reading the shooter well. Then, a shot from the blue line with clear sight and zero traffic in front resulted in a Florida goal.
Four minutes later, Jonathan Huberdeau scored from the crease to give the home team a three-goal lead.
It certainly seemed as though Montreal would finish the Florida road trip on a real low — potentially even being shut out for the second time in a row. Thankfully, the fourth line and Jake Evans thought differently. With a solo effort, he scored the Canadiens’ first goal in almost six periods, beating Driedger with a beauty up high over the blocker.
The Habs were on the board and did what they could to edge even closer, removing Lindgren with more than two-and-a-half minutes left. A little too late it would seem, as Hoffman ended the guests’ misery with an empty-netter.
A two-day rest now awaits the Canadiens before they face the Nashville Predators at the Bell Centre on Tuesday.