Tuesday, January 07, 2014
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Canadiens hold off Panthers

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[January 07, 2014]  MONTREAL  The third time was the charm for the Montreal Canadiens against the Florida Panthers.

After Montreal dropped the first two meetings in recent weeks, Canadiens right winger Brian Gionta scored the tiebreaking goal in the second period Monday night to give his team a 2-1 win over its Atlantic Division foe at the Bell Centre.

"That team plays hard," Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov said of the Panthers. "They're working hard every shift, and it's tough to play against them. Tonight, we had better work from everybody. We tried to play our game and tried to play hard."

At 15:46 of the middle period, center Tomas Plekanec intercepted defenseman Ed Jovanovski's pass behind the Florida net and fed a streaking Gionta in the left circle. The Canadiens captain fired a wrist shot past Florida goalie Tim Thomas for his seventh goal of the season, giving Montreal a 2-1 lead.

It marked the first time since Oct. 22 and Oct. 24 that Gionta scored in back-to-back games.

Center David Desharnais also scored for Montreal (25-14-5).

After giving up the first three shots on goal in the opening four minutes, the Canadiens took control thereafter, outshooting Florida 13-5 in the first period and 25-11 through 40 minutes.

"That's not a good enough of a start," said Panthers left winger Sean Bergenheim, who scored his team's only goal. "The third period was better from us. We showed that we have that push, and we know that we have that push. But we don't want to put ourselves in that situation."

Desharnais opened the scoring at 6:23 of the first period. After left winger Max Pacioretty fed him at the Florida blue line, the diminutive center, one-on-one with Panthers defenseman Tom Gilbert, fanned on his initial shot before going for a spin-o-rama to get the puck back and backhand it past Thomas.

The Canadiens thought they doubled their lead a few minutes later, but the goal was waved off because the referee blew his whistle.

After going more than 10 minutes without a shot, the Panthers finally got another and made it count at 17:09. Price made the save on rookie center Aleksander Barkov's initial shot from the left circle, but Bergenheim was in the slot to clean up the rebound for his 10th goal of the season.

Barkov's assist extended his points streak to six games, tying a Panthers rookie record.

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The line of Bergenheim, Barkov and right winger Brad Boyes have accounted for eight of Florida's last eight goals in regulation.

"Other lines have to contribute and score goals," Panthers left winger Tomas Fleischmann said. "I think for half of the game they were better, and then in the second half we picked it up. ... We had our chances to tie it but couldn't. It's too bad because we usually play pretty good here. We got points against Montreal the last two games, and these are points we're going to need."

Canadiens goaltender Carey Price made 26 saves.

Thomas, facing Montreal for the first time since Feb. 15, 2012  when he was with the Boston Bruins  stopped 33 shots.

Canadiens right winger Travis Moen nearly put his team ahead again early in the second on a short-handed, two-on-one rush with Plekanec. The puck went in the net, but the goal was disallowed after a review. It was deemed Thomas made the initial save and that a sliding Moen pushed him and the puck in.

Florida (16-21-6) pressed for the equalizer in the third period, outshooting Montreal 16-10 in the final stanza. However, the Canadiens hung on, holding an opponent to fewer than two goals for the first time since Dec. 28 against the Lightning in Tampa.

"That's what we're trying to get back to  limiting those chances, limiting the time we spend in our 'D' zone," Gionta said. "You can see the difference between the first two periods and the third period. When we spent a lot of time in the third period in our own end, they had a lot of good opportunities."

NOTES: Panthers D Erik Gudbranson returned to the lineup wearing a full cage. He missed five games after undergoing orbital bone surgery Dec. 23. ... The Canadiens scratched D Raphael Diaz and RW George Parros. ... Florida scratched RW Jimmy Hayes, C Scott Gomez and D Mike Mottau. Gomez, bought out by the Canadiens at the start of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, dressed for just two of the Panthers' last 16 games, both times seeing less than 10 minutes of ice time. ... Earlier in the day, Montreal C Tomas Plekanec was named captain of the Czech Republic's Olympic hockey team that will play in Sochi, Russia, next month. Diaz will represent Switzerland.

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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