Florida Panthers-Montreal Canadiens: Habs Cage Cats for the Win
Montreal 4 Florida 1 (Bell Centre)
After Hal Gill lost coverage, Florida's Radek Dvorak tipped a pass from Keith Ballard past Jaroslav Halak with just over three minutes left to play in the third period. The Panthers had cut into the 2-0 lead that the Canadiens established in the first period.
Given the third period collapse against the Sabres on the previous night after blowing a 2-0 lead, Habs' fans were more than a little unnerved. "It's a carbon-copy of last game," commented one.
Even players on the ice were concerned. "With 3:30 left they scored. It was kinda creepy," said Jaroslav Spacek.
But unlike the game in Buffalo, the Canadiens scored two empty-net goals to win 4-to-1.
While the score tonight was identical to the previous night for much of the game, that's where the similarities end.
Unlike the Sabres, the Florida Panthers are not a division-leading team. The Canadiens had little trouble limiting scoring chances surrendering 18 fewer shots on goal. Jaroslav Halak only faced 13 shots in the first two periods combined.
It was also obvious that Tomas Vokoun was not Ryan Miller. Benoit Pouliot put a backhand by Vokoun on the second shot on goal for the Habs. Brian Gionta skipped a 45 foot shot through the five-hole to make it 2-to-0 on a goal that has to be considered soft.
All goals were scored at even strength with Canadiens' penalty-killers being perfect on five Panthers' power-play chances.
Halak had a relatively light workload especially in the first two periods. He made two excellent pads saves, one on Nathan Horton in the first period and another in the second facing Rostislav Olesz.
The Canadiens third line had a strong game. Travis Moen was courageous returning after just a one-game absence despite a visor and 50 stitches to close a facial laceration. Dominic Moore had five shots on goal to lead the team. Sergei Kostitsyn was superb in a penalty-killing role.
Tomas Plekanec continued his superb play. He scored an empty-net goal to seal the victory, blocked five shots, and went 7-for-12 on faceoffs.
Gionta also scored with Vokoun pulled for an extra attacker for his second goal of the game. "We gave one point away last night, so its nice to get them both tonight," said Gionta.
After a game in the press box, Maxim Lapierre returned to play on the fourth line. In just under eight minutes of ice-time, he had one shot on goal and was not a factor.
With conference rivals' Flyers, Bruins and Thrashers all losing, the Canadiens are in sole possession of sixth place.
The New Jersey Devils will visit the Bell Centre on Saturday night for the Habs' next contest.
Rocket's three stars
1. Brian Gionta
2. Dominic Moore
3. Nathan Horton
special mention: Jaroslav Halak, Tomas Plekanec
Player quotes from wire services were used in this report.
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