SUNRISE - Following their big win over the Lightning the other night, the Canadiens went looking for a Florida sweep. It wasn't meant to be, as Montreal dropped a 2-1 decision to the Panthers Friday night at the BankAtlantic Center.
Despite a numerous chants from the capacity crowd in favor of the visitors, Claude Julien's squad fell for the 10th time in their last 11 games on the road. The loss also prevented the Canadiens from earning a second straight win since Nov. 8, as they lost by a goal for just the first time since Oct. 15 against the Maple Leafs.
Joe Nieuwendyk took care of the Panthers' offense on Friday night, scoring both goals for the home team. The 39-year-old veteran, acquired as a free agent in the off-season, opened the scoring five minutes into the game on the first of three Florida power-plays. Nieuwendyk finished off a play by Jozef Stumpel and Gary Roberts for his sixth goal of the season.
Not done yet, the former Flame beat Jose Theodore, who made 28 saves on the night, in the final minutes of the middle frame. Olli Jokinen picked up an assist on Nieuwendyk's second marker, extending his points streak to nine games. The Panthers' captain has recorded six goals and nine helpers during that span.
Roberto Luongo took care of the rest. Niklas Sundstrom was the only one who was able to beat him, finishing off a tic-tac-toe play from Pierre Dagenais and Mike Ribeiro.
Aside from Sundstrom's goal, Luongo was in fine form, turning aside 27 shots at the end of the night. Led by their netminder, the Panthers improved to 8-1-1 in their last 10 home games.
Alex Kovalev nearly evened the score when he was awarded a penalty shot after being hooked on a breakaway with three minutes left in regulation. The Russian winger attempted to trick Luongo by going up high, but the 26-year-old goaltender knocked the puck down with his glove and remains a perfect 9-0 on penalty shots, five of which he's faced in 2005-06.
The Canadiens will look to close out 2005 on a high note as the finale of their five-game road trip brings them to Carolina to face the Hurricanes.
NOTES: With Saku Koivu (groin), Radek Bonk (groin) and Tomas Plekanec (knee) still nursing injuries, Claude Julien kept the same lineup as Wednesday against Tampa Bay...Andrei Markov played in his 300th NHL career game...Steve Begin left the game in the first period after he was injured on a check from Panthers' D Steve Montador...Held off the scoreboard on four power-play opportunities, the Canadiens are now 2-6-2 when they fail to convert with the man advantage. Meanwhile, the Panthers improved to 7-0-1 when they stay perfect on the penalty kill...Kovalev's penalty shot was the second of his career. The last opportunity was on October 5, 1993 against the Bruins' Jon Casey, who stopped the then-Rangers star...It was the first time the Canadiens lost when Sundstrom scored...