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Florida for the holidays

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

TAMPA – A lot like turkey dinner at Christmas, the Canadiens’ annual Florida road trip during the holiday season has become a tradition.

For the 11th time since the 1996-97 campaign, the Canadiens will spend a few days at the end of December in the Sunshine State. In past years, this particular trip provided the perfect opportunity to escape Quebec’s harsh winters. Things are certainly different this time around as Mother Nature has been kind to Montrealers in recent weeks as 2015 winds down.

Michel Therrien’s troops arrive in Florida looking to put their struggles behind them and get back on track. With that in mind, a two-game stop in the most populous region of the Southeastern United States couldn’t have come at a better time. The Canadiens have enjoyed success in these tilts in years past, and they’ll undoubtedly be looking to make it happen again.

When the Habs hit the ice at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Monday night, they’ll try to improve upon the 6-3-0-1 record the club has amassed in Lightning territory over the years come Christmas time. It will mark the CH’s first appearance in front of their fans in Tampa this time of year since 2013-14. Last season, the Lightning’s home rink was unavailable due to a scheduling conflict. When the two teams last met during the winter months on December 28, 2013, Lars Eller secured a 2-1 Canadiens victory with the shootout winner.

As has been the case every season during the year-end trip, the Canadiens will wrap up the Florida-based portion of the trek in a building many people consider to be “Bell Centre – South” – the BB&T Center in Sunrise – which will be packed with Habs fans once again come Tuesday night. Knowing full well that “snowbirds” aplenty will be in the area come December, the Panthers elected to drastically raise their ticket prices to mark the occasion.

The Canadiens boast a .500 record in their 10 previous year-end outings against the Panthers, registering five wins and five losses in Sunrise. Nevertheless, they still left the building with a 2-1 victory back on December 30, 2014. Dustin Tokarski turned aside 36 of the 37 shots he faced, in addition to keeping Florida off the scoresheet in the shootout. For his part, Therrien hasn’t yet announced the identity of his starting goaltender for Tuesday night’s tilt, but history could very well repeat itself once again this year.

Lastly, while the Canadiens are currently in the midst of a six-game losing streak – in addition to picking up just one win in their last 11 games – the chances that they’ll find their game in Florida this year are good. Keep in mind that the Habs have registered at least one win eight times over the last decade during their late-December trip to Florida. They’ve also swept their Florida-based opponents three times in the past – in 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10. With that in mind, anything is possible in 2015-16!

Hugo Fontaine is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.

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