Plekanec, who was named captain of the Czech Republic's Olympic team on Monday, passed out front to Gionta, and Montreal's captain snapped a shot past Florida goalie Tim Thomas from low in the left faceoff circle to restore a one-goal lead.
"I've been in touch with the coach for the last few weeks and he mentioned something like that," Plekanec said about his nomination. "It's obviously a great honor and I'm very happy about it, but it's just a letter on a jersey. We've got to play like captains out there to be successful."
Plekanec was chosen to lead his country's Olympic team, which boasts the likes of Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias, both former NHL captains.
"It's a great honor," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "I'm really proud for him, well-deserved, and when you're talking about being a pro, Tomas is exactly where he fits in, so we're honored that Tomas is the captain of his own country."
Gionta scored for a second straight game after failing to score in his previous 13 games.
"He's a shooter," Plekanec said. "He's a good player. He went through a tough stretch with the goals, but it seems like he's found it again and those are big goals for us."
David Desharnais scored at 6:23 of the first period for the Canadiens, who had lost three of their previous four games, yet have one regulation loss in their past seven (4-1-2).
Sean Bergenheim drew the Panthers even with his 10th goal at 17:09 of the first.
Thomas stopped 33 shots for Florida, which ended a 2-0-1 run that followed a three-game losing streak.
The Panthers, who were outshot 13-5 in the first, and 12-6 in the second, held a 16-10 advantage in shots in the third.
"The third period was better from us," Bergenheim said. "We showed that we have that push. We know that we have that push but we don't want to have to put ourselves in that situation."
While Florida interim coach Peter Horachek said that Jovanovski would surely like to have the pass he turned over to Plekanec back to do over, he is pleased with the veteran defenseman's progress in his first two games of the season since undergoing hip surgery in April.
"Players who get hurt for 10 games, it takes a month to get back into the swing of things," Horachek said. "Sometimes it takes a long time. For a player that's been out for a year, it takes even longer, but I think he's done a really good job for the amount of time he's been out, so it's a process."
Florida won the first two of four games between the teams this season, including a 2-1 win in Montreal on Dec. 15, and 4-1 at home on Dec. 29. The Panthers host the Canadiens on Mar. 29.
"They're a team that plays us well," Price said. "They've got a pretty good squad over there. They work hard. They always seem to play well in this building so it definitely feels good to get a win."
A candidate for Canada's Olympic team, Price was asked if he will lose any sleep waiting for the announcement of the roster, which will take place Tuesday in Toronto.
"I always have a tough time sleeping after games, and obviously I'm excited to hear the announcement," Price said.
Desharnais opened the scoring with his sixth goal despite fanning on a wrist shot from the top of the slot. The Montreal center continued driving to the net and turned his back on Florida's Tom Gilbert to put a backhand shot past Thomas inside the right post.
"I just stuck with it and put the puck on the net," Desharnais said. "If it doesn't work the first time, you just go with the second effort, and good things happen."
Gilbert was struck in the face by the puck on a dump-in shot by Montreal's Max Pacioretty off the ensuing faceoff. The Panthers defenseman was bleeding when he went to the dressing room. He returned later in the period.
The Canadiens had two goals waved off during the game, the first at 7:01 of the opening period when referee Eric Furlatt blew his whistle before the puck went into the net. Montreal's Brendan Gallagher was penalized for slashing on the play and Florida defenseman Mike Weaver was called for roughing.
Pacioretty snapped a shot off the right post late in the Canadiens' first power-play opportunity after Florida's Krys Barch was called for high-sticking at 11:49.
Bergenheim teamed up with Panthers linemates Aleksander Barkov and Brad Boyes to draw Florida even at 1-1 at 17:09. Bergenheim had a great opportunity to give the Panthers the lead moments later, but he put his backhand off the crossbar.
Montreal's Travis Moen had a potential shorthanded goal waved off by referee Steve Kozari at the 23-second mark of the second period. A video review upheld Kozari's ruling that Thomas had stopped Moen's shot and that the puck entered the net as a result of the Canadiens forward's collision with the goalie.
"I didn't actually see how he went down, how he lost his footing, but it was quite a ride," Thomas said. "I think it was pretty close to a 360 in the air so I don't think I want to take that ride again, but I'm glad I wasn't hurt on the play, and neither was he."
Gudbranson wore a full-face cage on his helmet in his return to the lineup after missing five games because of a broken orbital bone.
Montreal, which wrapped up a two-game homestand, plays Wednesday against the Philadelphia Flyers. Florida plays the second of its three-game road trip against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday.