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Habs look for third straight win vs. road weary Panthers

Jan 17, 2023; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens right wing Josh Anderson (17) celebrates the win with goaltender Sam Montembeault (35) against the Winnipeg Jets after the third period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens would tie their humble season-high winning streak if they can defeat the visiting Florida Panthers on Thursday night.

Montreal’s run of two consecutive wins has been fueled by several ex-Panthers, including goalie Sam Montembeault, defenseman Mike Matheson, and forwards Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman.

In a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night, the Canadiens got two goals from Dadonov, one goal from Hoffman, one assist from Matheson and 25 saves by Montembeault.

Prior to the win over Winnipeg, the Canadiens defeated the host New York Rangers 2-1 on Sunday. Both the Jets and Rangers are currently in playoff position.

“We just beat two of the best teams in the league,” said Montembeault, who has made five straight starts, allowing 2.2 goals per game during that span. “It just shows that when we play (hard) for 60 minutes, we can compete with anybody.”

For perspective, the Canadiens had the worst record in the NHL last season. This season, the Canadiens occupy next-to-last place in the Eastern Conference with 41 points.

What’s different about Thursday’s game is the struggles of the Panthers, who had the best record in the NHL in 2021-22. The Panthers are not currently in playoff position. In fact, they lead Montreal by just six points, and the Canadiens have played one less game.

On Tuesday, Florida lost 5-4 in overtime at Toronto, and Panthers coach Paul Maurice didn’t hold back his disgust with the officiating.

“Energy, excitement and profanity would be the words,” Maurice said when asked to describe the game from his team’s perspective.

“I’m proud of our guys. (The league) flew us out to the west coast, flew us back home, flew us up here for a back-to-back, and then they threw those two (officials) at us. I don’t know what the hell those guys were doing, but it wasn’t Florida Panther-friendly.”

Toronto went 2-for-7 on its power play. In contrast, Florida scored one goal on just three chances with the man advantage.

Maurice, though, said he still “feels good” about the Panthers, who are 5-2-1 in their past eight games. Thursday will cap a stretch of seven road contests in an eight-game span.

“This is by far our most difficult stretch of the season,” Maurice said. “Our guys are a little tired, but our compete-level is much higher than in December. We’re working our butts off. We’re working hard enough to win.”

Winger Matthew Tkachuk leads the Panthers in goals (22) and assists (34). However, he had a seven-game points streak snapped against Toronto. He had five goals and eight assists during that span. Carter Verhaeghe is second in goals (21), and Brandon Montour is second in assists (29).

Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is 12-13-2.

Meanwhile, Montreal is led in points by Nick Suzuki (37) and Cole Caufield (36). Suzuki and Kirby Dach top the Canadiens in assists with 21 each, and Caufield’s 26 goals are best on the squad.

Montembeault, drafted in the third round by the Panthers in 2015, is 9-7-2.

However, the Canadiens placed three forwards on injured reserve Tuesday: Juraj Slafkovsky, Joel Armia and Jake Evans. In addition, Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin missed Tuesday’s game due to injury.

Slafkovsky, the NHL’s No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, has four goals and six assists in 39 games.

–Field Level Media