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Game preview: MTL @ FLA

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
CANACANADIENS (23-13-3) vs. PANTHERS (14-20-5)

For their second-to-last game of 2013, the Habs will look to get it done in regulation time against an injury-ravaged Florida Panthers squad.

Although Ben Bishop and the Tampa Bay Lightning held the Canadiens to a lone goal in 65 minutes of play, it proved to be insufficient as the Lars Eller scored in the shootout to give his team a 2-1 win. Carey Price made 23 saves on 24 shots and was a perfect three-for-three in the shootout. Tomas Plekanec scored his thirteenth goal of the season early in the second period, while Martin St-Louis potted his team-leading seventeenth minutes later. Andrei Markov led Montreal with 26:47 in icetime and finished the game with a +1 rating.

Despite showing flashes of brilliance against the Detroit Red Wings, the Florida Panthers dropped the first game in their back-to-back by a score of 4-3 on Saturday night. Brendan Smith and Gustav Nyquist scored in the first two minutes in the third frame to put the Wing up 4-2. Sean Bergenheim scored his second of the game minutes later to pull the Panthers within one, but both teams went scoreless the rest of the way. Nick Bjugstad was the only other Panther to light the lamp. Rookie Aleksander Barkov made his presence felt on Saturday, racking up one assist and directing five shots on net in 17:50 played.

The Panthers have not had good luck staying healthy so far this season. On Sunday afternoon, they will likely have to do without four regulars in Matt Gilroy, Erik Gudbranson, Scottie Upshall and Jesse Winchester. The absence of Upshall is especially problematic for coach Peter Horacek’s team, as he is the second most productive scorer on a team which ranks 28th league-wide in goals scored. In his absence, look for youngsters Jonathan Huberdeau, Bjugstad and Barkov to be used abundantly. Tomas Fleishmann still leads team scoring with 19 points in 38 games.

With Scott Clemmensen handling goaltending duties on Saturday, expect former Stanley Cup winner Tim Thomas to return to action on Sunday afternoon. He had been out for the past week with a lower-body injury, but is cleared to play against the Habs.

In net for Montreal will be Peter Budaj, who makes his tenth appearance of the season.

Sunday’s game will be the second of four between Montreal and the Panthers in 2013-14. In the team’s most recent matchup at the Bell Centre, the Panthers won 2-1 on December 15th.

While the Sunday matinee is an away affaire for the Habs, they will be able to count on the support of thousands of vacationing Canadians who are taking a break from the beach to watch their favorite team from up close. Thanks in part to that, Montreal is 4-3 in their past seven visits to Sunrise, Florida.

Exceptionally, puck drop is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. EST.

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