CANADIENS (20-11-3) vs. PANTHERS (11-17-5)
Against the Islanders on Saturday, the Habs had a last-second burst of offence and pulled out the win in sudden death overtime. Max Pacioretty redirected a David Desharnais feed past Evegeni Nabokov late in the five-minute extra frame, while Carey Price made 21 saves for his twenty-first career shutout. Due to the snowstorm hitting the Montreal area, coach Michel Therrien and his players only returned home in the early morning, leaving precious few hours for rest and relaxation before the evening’s game against Florida.
On Friday, the Panthers eked out their second shootout win in a row, beating the Washington Capitals 3-2 after defeating the Detroit Red Wings by the same score earlier in the week. The extra frame lasted a whopping ten rounds before Tomas Kopecky beat Caps netminder Philipp Grubauer to seal the win. Dylan Olsen and Aleksander Barkov scored in regulation for Florida, who is suddenly hot with four wins in its last five games.
The Panthers’ roster is an eclectic mix of young and old, as the visiting team has employed a league-high 15 players aged 30 or above this season while retaining the services of blue-chip prospects Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad, who are all 21 or younger. 30 year-old Scottie Upshall is the team’s leading scorer with 17 points, while 29 year-old Tomas Fleischmann and 20 year-old Huberdeau are within two points. The team’s defensive core is led by recent signing Tim Thomas, who is 39, while 34 year-old Brian Campbell leads all skaters in average ice time with over 27 minutes played per game.
Absent for the Panthers will be defensemen Matt Gilroy and Ed Jovanovski, who are both out long-term with lower-body ailments. Goaltender Tim Thomas missed Friday’s game versus Washington and may not play on Sunday.
As for the Canadiens, Rene Bourque is close to a return to action after missing the past five games with an upper-body injury. Coach Michel Therrien believes he will be back early next week. George Parros’ status is unclear, as the forward left the game and did not return after fighting Eric Boulton on Saturday night.
Sunday’s game will be the first of four matchups between Montreal and the Panthers in 2013-14. The Habs have won the last three against the Panthers. In the team’s most recently matchup at the Bell Centre, Andrei Markov had two goals as the Canadiens downed the Panthers 4-1 on January 22, 2013.
Exceptionally, puck drop is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. EST.