Habs hold off Panthers claws with 3-2 win

Brain Gionta was the hero for the second straight night, bagging his 19th goal of the season at 11:32 of the third period, in the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers.

The Canadiens fired 41 shots at the Panthers Tomas Vokoun . Alex Auld made 33 saves en route to his first home win in Montreal, and improved his career record against his former team to 4-0-3, with one tie.

"I felt focused and was looking forward to tonight. The last time I was disappointed, but it was good to come in here and show that fans that I can get the job done." Auld said. "The guys played good , and we stayed with our game plan."

The game opened up at a relatively slow pace, with a combined 16 shots on goal, and almost felt like Jacques Martin was coaching both sides.

Gionta's marker gave the Canadiens a 3-1 lead, but the Panthers battled back to get within one with 2:10 remaining.

With 30 games left to play in the regular season, the Canadiens now sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference by a point over the New York Rangers, with a game in hand.

Who would have thought that after 52 games, that the Habs captain would be tied in goals with the Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin? Gionta's goal was the 199th of his career.

After getting bounced, literally, by Ovechkin the night before, P.K Subban had an outstanding night against the visiting club. The rookie rearguard had two assists, five shots on goal, and five that missed the net in 23:10 TOI.

Max Pacioretty showed that he is ready to be a top six forward in this league. Hissix shots on goal led both teams, and picked up two assists, including one on Gionta's game winner after a great rush to the net.

"I thought he (Pacioretty) played a really strong game," coach Martin said. "That line of Pacioretty, Plekanec and Gionta played really well."

Despite the win, and the Third Star selection, Auld did seem to have some rebound issues throughout the game. Regardless, the backup did his job, and will allow Carey Price, who should play both games over the weekend.

After Price, the team MVP has to be Tomas Plekanec. After being a non-factor in the playoff circle Tuesday night, the Habs centre was 18-11, and added his seventeenth goal of the season and an assist.

Who misses Yannick Perrault, Glen Metropolit, or Bryan Smolinski anymore?? Emotionally, yes I know there are fans out there who are attached to the past Habs centers, as had a few responses on Twitter. Jeff Halpern seems to have the traits of all three players, and can put the puck in the net. It looks like he can drop a good drag bunt, based on his goal to open the Habs scoring tonight. Too bad the Expos aren't around anymore.

The Canadiens are 8-2-3 in their last 13 games, and will play what seems like a traditional pair of weekend afternoon home games, in conjunction with the NFL SuperBowl. I wouldn't take the New Jersey Devils too lightly on Sunday, as Jacques LeMaire appears to have the team back to it's old defensive ways, and Martin Brodeur has found his game again.

Reaction from the Panthers camp at Litter Box Cats

Three Stars:1. Tomas Plekanec 2. P.K. Subban 3. Alex Auld

First period
07:30 FLA Scott Timmins, 1 (Rostislav Olesz, 11 Steve Bernier, 8) (FLA: 29 5 6 26 85 75 MTL: 75 35 52 57 58 76)
Second period
04:50 MTL Jeff Halpern, 8 (P.k. Subban, 15) (FLA: 61 29 14 19 4 7 MTL: 75 15 35 32 94 76)
Third period
05:46 MTL Tomas Plekanec, 17 (Max Pacioretty, 6) (FLA: 29 5 9 21 67 7 MTL: 75 21 35 14 76 67)
11:32 MTL Brian Gionta, 19 (Max Pacioretty, 7 P.k. Subban, 16) (FLA: 29 5 43 85 10 13 MTL: 75 21 35 14 76 67)
17:50 FLA Stephen Weiss, 15 (Michael Frolik, 19 Dmitry Kulikov, 14) (FLA: 61 9 21 10 67 7 MTL: 75 11 21 15 35 76)

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