Canadiens vs. Panthers: Game preview, start time, Tale of the Tape, and how to watch
The Habs try to avoid a sweep at the hands of a divisional opponent.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Florida Panthers
How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English, RDS (French)
In the Panthers region: Bally Sports Florida
Streaming: ESPN+, RDS Direct, Sportsnet Now, TSN+
With a few minutes to go versus the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night, the playoff hopes of the Florida Panthers were hanging by a thread. Fortunately for them, it takes the merest tug for the Maple Leafs to unravel.
The Panthers were prevented from scoring a tying goal only by an illegal intervention from defenceman Mark Giordano. That just meant the 2019 Norris Trophy-winner got to sit down in the penalty box at Scotiabank Arena as Florida found that tying goal off the stick of Sam Reinhart.
The visitors had to weather a few chances from Toronto’s stars in overtime, but on one of those chances two attacking players got caught behind the play,. A two-on-one went the other way, and Aleksander Barkov set up Brandon Montour for the game-winning goal.
Turning what was looking like a zero-point effort into a two-point result, Florida snapped a four-game losing streak, and came to a rest a single point back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, with an additional game played.
As the Panthers make the trip from Toronto to Montreal for tonight’s match, we’re presented with a problem: the tanker’s dilemma. Do you want to see the Canadiens do their part to spoil Florida’s playoff aspirations and hope they end up in the draft lottery with a (minuscule) chance to move up 10 spots? Or would you rather see Montreal lose to help out their own cause of earning top-five odds while perhaps giving up that chance of another high selection?
If the first three games of the season series are any indication, the Habs may not have much say in the matter. They ended their regular-season slate with a 10-1 win a year ago, and the Panthers appear to have taken that personally, with three wins, none by fewer than four goals, in 2022-23.
A back-and-forth affair like the meeting on March 16 would at least provide solid entertaining if the Habs are to lose. Montreal was holding its own at the start of what ended up being a record-setting offensive display in the first period, but then Sergei Bobrovsky became corporeal and began turning aside the pucks shot his way. It was 7-3 after the opening 20 minutes, and the Canadiens were no closer at the end of the 9-5 contest.
It was Bobrovsky’s backup, Alex Lyon, who turned aside 38 of Toronto’s 40 shots last night. Normally a goaltender would sit the next game out, but it’s at the point of the season when desperate teams need to play their best hand every time, and Bobrovsky hasn’t been making the cut with three consecutive losses and a combined 13 goals against in those defeats. Head coach Paul Maurice said that Bobrovsky is in Montreal, dealing with a illness, and isn’t ruled out to start. Perhaps the coach is hoping a win at the Bell Centre will get his $10-million man going with so much at stake.
Brendan Gallagher will be eager to fire the puck at whoever gets the nod from Maurice, because his confidence is higher than it’s been in some time. He comes into tonight on a three-game goal-scoring streak, something he hadn’t achieved since the final handful of games in 2020-21.
His play is renewing confidence in his ability to still have an impact at the NHL level, which was in question at the start of this campaign. The good news for the 31-year-old energy forward is that his success has been coming via his shot from relatively long range by his career standard, rather than requiring him to jam away at the front of the net where he’s often gotten injured in recent years. The new style of offence fits Martin St-Louis’s system a lot better than the cycling game Gallagher used to thrive on, so perhaps there’s a new chapter in a story that appeared to be reaching an early end.