MONTREAL – Carey Price likes to say it doesn't affect him to be growing up in perhaps the most intense hockey fishbowl in the NHL.
But Monday night, Price was able to admit what a refreshing change it is when his own fans are behind him, instead of climbing all over him.
Price let the third shot he faced past him but allowed only one more the rest of the way to quiet his Bell Centre critics and lead the Montreal Canadiens to a 6-2 pre-season victory against the Florida Panthers.
Price was roundly booed and showered with mock cheers after allowing four goals on 10 shots in the Canadiens' first game of the pre-season, a 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Sept. 22.
But the fans tried to make up for it by chanting Price’s name throughout Monday night's victory.
"They were very supportive, and it was very appreciated," Price said. "It just makes things way easier. It's easier on me, it's easier on my teammates. It's just easier on everybody when you can feel the support."
The rough pre-season welcome from fans was a hot topic of discussion in Montreal for days, and only intensified after Price allowed six goals on 30 shots in a 6-2 pre-season loss in Ottawa on Saturday night.
But Price rebounded, even though he didn't have to be at his best with only 19 saves while the Canadiens got two goals from Tomas Plekanec and others from Jaroslav Spacek, Tom Pyatt, Ryan White and Michael Cammalleri.
"It feels good to see our fans help us and help Carey," said Plekanec, who climbed into a tie for the pre-season scoring lead with his third and fourth goals of the exhibition schedule. "When you see that from the fans, what they did tonight was great. We saw it from the bench and we were so happy about it."
The Panthers got a goal and assist from David Booth – giving him four points in only two exhibition games – while Stephen Weiss added his first of the pre-season late in the third.
Tomas Vokoun was sharp in the Panthers' goal with 20 saves on 22 shots. But he was replaced to start the third period by rookie Jacob Markstrom, who allowed three of the first seven shots he faced to go in and finished with nine saves on 13 shots.
Erik Gudbranson, the third pick at the 2010 Entry Draft, saw a ton of ice time as he continues his uphill battle to make the team and did not look out of place. He was, however, left bloodied after a third period fight with Canadiens veteran Travis Moen.
The Panthers were incensed after the game that Moen would go after an 18-year-old rookie, and Gudbranson wasn't happy either as he felt Moen took advantage of the situation to get some free punches in.
"I went after him, I wanted to fight him," Gudbranson said. "I instigated it, but I was tied up. (Moen) saw it and he still threw the punch. It was a little gutless he threw that punch.
"I could have done it at the end (of the fight) when the refs came in. I could have broken his nose, but I didn't do it."
Among the Canadiens hopefuls, White had another strong game providing a physical presence with two fights and showing off some skill to score his second of the pre-season.
"I like to play hockey, but that's the game," White said. "You've got to stick up for your teammates. I knew (Moen) was going to be in trouble there and I just wanted to go to bat for him and help him out."
Rookie Lars Eller got his first three points in a Canadiens' uniform with three assists on the night, and admitted he was feeling some pressure to produce after two straight pointless games.
"I wanted to improve, I wasn't quite satisfied with the first two games," said Eller, the key piece that came to Montreal from St. Louis in the Jaroslav Halak trade. "I'm still not satisfied. There's still room for improvement, but it was a step in the right direction."
The Panthers opened the scoring with a power play goal at 8:32 of the first, with Price sliding across to make a nice pad stop on Dennis Wideman. But the rebound found Booth alone in the slot and he buried the puck in a wide open net. The overwhelming majority of the Bell Centre fans responded with chants of "Carey, Carey."
"Tonight was awesome," Price said. "It felt good."
The Canadiens took a 2-1 lead before the first intermission when Spacek scored on a long shot from the blue line at 15:57 and Plekanec scored a beauty on a shorthanded wraparound at 18:29.
After a relatively uneventful second, the Canadiens exploded for three goals in a span of 3:45 on Markstrom early in the third period.
Pyatt got it started at the 44-second mark when he took a pass from Ben Maxwell – who got leveled on clean hit by Wideman immediately afterwards – and beat Markstrom through the legs with a wrist shot from the circle.
Plekanec followed with his second of the game at 3:47, taking a nifty saucer pass from Eller and banking a shot in off Gudbranson's skate for his fourth of the pre-season.
White finished the onslaught when he broke free of the Panthers defense to skate in alone on Markstrom, who he beat with a nice move between the legs at 4:29 to make it 5-1 Montreal.
The game got completely out of hand at that point with a steady stream of fights and penalties, including game misconducts for White and Mike Duco.
Weiss scored on the power play at 18:07 by burying a rebound off a Booth shot from the slot, but Cammalleri scored on a partial break at 19:27 to make it 6-2 Canadiens.