MONTREAL -- It never occurred to Max Pacioretty that his overtime goal gave the Montreal Canadiens a berth into the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs until he was interviewed after a 3-2 win against the Florida Panthers at Bell Centre on Saturday.
Pacioretty scored his team-leading 36th goal with 2:01 remaining in overtime when he sent a pass from David Desharnais past Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo seven seconds after Florida center Vincent Trocheck was called for high-sticking Montreal's Lars Eller.
"Actually I probably should have known, I probably should have assumed that we would have clinched, but it just didn't cross my mind," Pacioretty said. "It's a good feeling. Our number one goal every camp is to make the playoffs, and now that we've done that, we've got a big goal to fill."
The Canadiens lost to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final in six games last year. Montreal has won the Stanley Cup a record 24 times, though not since 1993.
"We want to build off last year and we had a lot of success last year, but it's because we had the right mindset," Pacioretty said. "And if we go into this playoffs with the right mindset, that's the only way we're going to have success."
The Canadiens (47-21-8) lead the Eastern Conference with 102 points, one ahead of the Rangers, who lost 4-2 to the Boston Bruins on Saturday.
"That's where we want to be," Montreal center Lars Eller said. "We're happy, but we're not satisfied."
A huge reason for Montreal's success this season has been the play of goalie Carey Price, who made 21 saves and leads the NHL with 41 wins, a 1.88 goals-against-average, and a .937 save percentage.
Price, whose nine shutouts are tied with Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the League lead, was shaken up when Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban upended him in a collision behind the net late in the third period. Price did not speak to reporters after the game, but Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said he had no concerns about the collision.
"You could see that neither team wanted to open up too much, wanted to make sure not to make the mistake that would cost them the game," Therrien said. "So you saw how important the two points were for each team."
Luongo made 22 saves, none more sensational than the one he made on Canadiens forward Tomas Plekanec with 2:46 remaining in the third period to allow the Panthers to gain a crucial point.
Luongo reached behind himself with his glove and swatted the puck out of the air and clear of the goal line after Plekanec's shot from the right side on a pass from Alex Galchenyuk hit him on the left side above his hip and fell back toward the net.
"[Luongo] was great in all areas," Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell said. "Obviously it was a highlight-reel save from him. He's there to protect us and save us, and he definitely gave us a chance."
Florida (34-26-15) has 83 points and is four behind the Bruins for the second wild card into the playoffs from the East. The Panthers continue their five-game road trip Sunday against the Ottawa Senators, who have 86 points.
"You want to get the two points, it's huge right now," Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau said. "You know the other teams are winning. We've just got to come out [Sunday] and forget about this one."
Trocheck's penalty in overtime was tough for Panthers coach Gerard Gallant to accept.
"It's probably a call, but when you don't call it all night then you call it in overtime that's what's disappointing," Gallant said. "That's what I thought, anyway. I agree it was probably a penalty. He touched him on the helmet with his stick, barely, but it's probably a call. But the way the game was officiated all night I thought it would take a lot more than that to get a penalty in overtime."
Florida center Aleksander Barkov scored twice in the second period for his first multi-goal game in the NHL. Huberdeau assisted on both goals, which gave the Panthers a 2-1 lead.
Galchenyuk scored his 20th goal on a power play at 14:35 of the second to tie the game 2-2.
Galchenyuk stepped up at the right side of the net and sent a wrist shot over Luongo inside the right post for his first goal in 13 games.
Eller gave Montreal a 1-0 lead with his 12th goal at 17:37 of the first, one second after Panthers forward Jimmy Hayes' unsportsmanlike conduct penalty expired.
Barkov was left unmarked to take a pass from Huberdeau and drive the slot before putting a backhand shot over Price's glove for his 13th goal to tie the game 1-1 at 6:09 of the first.
Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr got his 1,076th NHL assist and 1,794th point on Barkov's first goal of the game at 6:09 of the second.
Jagr, who was acquired in a trade with the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 26, is three assists behind Adam Oates (1,079) for sixth place in League history. He is four points behind Ron Francis (1,798) for fourth place.
"He's an exceptional athlete," Therrien said. "He still has skill. Often, players of a certain age begin to lose their skills, they lose their explosiveness, their strength on the puck, and in Jagr's case he still hasn't lost them. It's particularly special at the age of 43 to be able to play like that, to be able to help a team, help the two young players who play with him.
"I think those two youngsters playing with Jagr have emerged since he arrived. They have gained a lot of confidence, and that is now one of the better lines in the NHL."
Barkov made it 2-1 at 13:11 of the second when he scored on Florida's first power-play opportunity. He deflected Huberdeau's low shot up and past Price for his 14th goal and second in a span of 7:02.
"It's a lot of fun to play with those guys, when you are on the ice you have a lot of chances to score," Barkov said. "Just need to score more, shoot more. It's nice to score two goals, but it's not enough to win."