SUNRISE, Fla. — After the Montreal Canadiens lost their leading scorer to injury early in the game, they used a team effort to reclaim first place in the Atlantic Division and reach a few milestones with a 4-1 win against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center on Sunday.
Goalie Carey Price tied the Canadiens record with his 42nd victory of the season, Michel Therrien got his 200th win with Montreal in his 400th game as head coach, and Devante Smith-Pelly scored his first goal since being acquired in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks.
Max Pacioretty, who leads the Canadiens with 37 goals and 67 points, left the game at 5:48 of the first period when he hit his head against the boards after being checked by Dmitry Kulikov and then getting his feet tangled with Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic.
"It was not about one guy who really stepped up," Therrien said. "We lost an important player in our lineup tonight, but one thing I really appreciate is the fact that guys were fresh and they played hard, and that's what we're looking for."
Pacioretty appeared wobbly as he was accompanied off the ice by a trainer. Therrien had no update on Pacioretty's status after the game.
"He's a big part of our team, a guy we've relied on all year long," said forward Brendan Gallagher, who scored in the second period to give Montreal a 2-1 lead. "That said, that's sports; guys go down. It's an opportunity for guys to step up, and I thought we did a good job of that tonight. Balanced scoring throughout the board and obviously happy to see [Smith-Pelly] get his first one with us."
The Canadiens (48-22-10) are two points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning atop the Atlantic Division. Each team has two games remaining, and the Lightning hold the tiebreaker for regulation/overtime wins (46-42).
Price finished with 24 saves to tie the Canadiens' single-season wins record first set by Jacques Plante in 1955-56, then matched by Plante in 1961-62 and by Ken Dryden in 1975-76.
"It's been a lot of fun this year," Price said. "That pretty much sums it up. We've had excellent success as a group this year and that definitely reflects it."
PA Parenteau and Tomas Plekanec each had a goal and an assist for Montreal, which avoided its first four-game losing streak of the season.
Aaron Ekblad scored for the Panthers (36-29-15), who were eliminated from playoff contention Saturday when they lost 4-0 against Tampa Bay.
"We weren't very good tonight," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "We checked out. I wasn't happy with the performance. I didn't like our effort. I always talk about finishing hard, but we didn't finish hard tonight."
Montreal won the season series 4-0-1; this was the first game decided by more than one goal.
The Canadiens are 6-0-1 in their past seven games against the Panthers and have won the past four at BB&T Center.
Plekanec opened the scoring at 6:36 of the first period on a 5-on-3 power play. With Kulikov in the box for interference on the play Pacioretty was injured and Erik Gudbranson serving a minor for high sticking, Plekanec scored his 200th NHL goal from a sharp angle when he beat Ellis through the five-hole.
"I tried to shoot it," Plekanec said. "The first one I tried to pass, it was blocked. And then I had a chance, so I tried to put it through his feet and got a lucky bounce."
Ekblad tied the game at 6:20 of the second period with his 12th goal, the most in the NHL among rookie defensemen.
After Florida won the faceoff immediately following Dale Wiese's penalty for delay of game, Ekblad got the puck at the point and was allowed to skate in before firing a slap shot from the top of the left circle that beat Price low to the glove side.
"It kind of bobbled on me for a little bit, so I just tried to settle it down," Ekblad said. "I think Price thought I wasn't going to shoot it because guys were saying on the bench that he kind of shifted over to his blocker side. So I just kind of took a quick shot, head down. I went post on him. It was good."
Florida almost took the lead less than a minute later when Petrovic's slap shot from the point hit the post. Instead, Montreal turned the near-miss into a breakout opportunity and scored 46 seconds after Ekblad's goal.
P.K. Subban chased down an errant lead pass in the Florida zone and sent the puck across the ice to Gallagher, who one-timed it past Ellis for his 24th goal.
It was Gallagher's fourth goal against Florida this season.
"I think it's just been opportunistic," Gallagher said. "I've had some linemates that have helped out a lot, giving me opportunities, and I've been able to bear down and put a few in. It's definitely nothing about them; it's more so about what we're doing."
Parenteau broke a nine-game goal drought at 11:27 with a spectacular individual effort. He skated with the puck the length of the ice before crossing the blue line and firing a wrist shot while surrounded by three Florida players. Parenteau then beat everybody to the rebound and shot the puck past Ellis.
"I took my time," Parenteau said. "I was patient with the puck all the way up the ice. It kind of opened up for me in the neutral zone, and I took advantage of it.
"I think there was a little standstill there with the three guys around me. I actually got lucky a little bit because it wasn't the best rebound in the world, but I'll take it."
Parenteau also was instrumental in Montreal's fourth goal at 17:42 of the second after he stole the puck from defenseman Willie Mitchell to the side of the Florida net. Parenteau fed Smith-Pelly for a one-timer.
Smith-Pelly went without a goal in his first 17 games with Montreal after being acquired in a trade Feb. 24.
"It felt good," Smith-Pelly said. "It's a big relief, so hopefully it snowballs in the right direction.
"Anytime you're able to contribute, it's special. I'm just happy we came out with a big win. I don't really focus on my personal stats that much. I'm more focused on doing what the coaches ask me and do what I need to do to help the team win."