SUNRISE – Despite building a three-goal cushion early on, the Habs weren’t able to stop the Panthers' top line on Saturday night.
MOVES LIKE JAGR/BARKOV/HUBERDEAU: After spotting their visitors a 3-0 lead by the mid-way point in the second period, the Panthers managed to spring into attack mode buoyed by their top line, including a four-point effort by 20-year-old center Aleksander Barkov. Sitting among the 25 leading point-getters in the league one month after celebrating his 44th birthday, Jaromir Jagr sparked the rally with his 26th of the campaign, before Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau completed the comeback in the final 20:04. The trio has now combined for 11 points in three games against the Canadiens this year, including eight from Barkov, five from Huberdeau, and three from Jagr.
“They’re good. We’ve played against good players before, but it seems like every time we play them, that line finds ways to contribute. It’s two pretty young kids playing with Jagr. I’m sure they’re learning a lot from him,” mentioned Brendan Gallagher, who was matched against the Panthers’ snipers for the majority of Saturday’s game. “They’re definitely a challenging line to play against, but at the same time you can’t be happy when you give a line that much success.”
TOP THREE: Saturday night provided a sneak peek at what could be the Canadiens’ top line for the foreseeable future. Michel Therrien’s first look at a potential combo that saw Gallagher and Max Pacioretty flanking newly-minted NHL centerman Alex Galchenyuk didn’t last long. After suffering a lower body injury just 4:52 into his night on March 5, Gallagher was forced to miss the following 12 games before finally making his return to action on Saturday in Sunrise. While he joked on Friday that his goal was to just try not to mess with a good thing after seeing Pacioretty and Galchenyuk combine for 22 points in his absence, his concerns were assuaged pretty quickly following the opening puck drop. It didn’t take long for the trio to find chemistry, with Gallagher chipping a shot from the slot over Roberto Luongo on his third shift of the night.
“The training staff do a good job of making sure that when you’re out there, you’re in good shape and ready to go. I wouldn’t have come back if I didn’t feel like I could contribute,” stressed Gallagher, who had five shots in his 21:43 of ice time and is now one goal shy of potting his 20th of the season. “We felt good, but I thought we probably should be scoring a couple more, especially in a game we lost by one goal. It didn’t really take long for us to feel good playing with each other, it’s just a matter of us finishing them off, especially with the couple of chances late. We did a good job creating scoring chances. It’s just disappointing. When you get up 3-0 on the road, you have to find ways to win those hockey games.”
MORE PATIENTS: The parade to the Canadiens’ clinic continued on Saturday as the team was forced to finish with five defensemen for a second-straight game when Brett Lernout had his night end early after suffering a lower body injury. Lernout, who was called up on Friday to replace Nathan Beaulieu in the lineup after the latter suffered a season-ending broken thumb in Tampa, played just 6:30 in his NHL debut before being tended to by the team’s medical staff. Greg Pateryn also missed some action against the Panthers after taking a puck to the cheek in the second period, but the 25-year-old was able to return to action a few minutes later, playing 21:43 on the night. Three blue-liners played over 20 minutes against the Panthers, including Pateryn, Andrei Markov (27:17), and Alexei Emelin (26:10) and rookie rearguards Joel Hanley (19:52) and Darren Dietz (17:30) both enjoyed the most action of their young careers to date.
“Losing another defenseman was definitely taxing on our group. Everything was under control, but with the loss of Lernout and then Pateryn for a short time, we asked a lot of our defensemen,” admitted Therrien, who has seen 14 different blue-liners play at least one game for the Canadiens this season. “Even our veterans like Markov and Emelin played way too many minutes. We lost some energy because of that. Tonight’s circumstances made things a little more difficult, for sure.
“[P.K.] Subban plays big minutes,” added Therrien, whose injured Norris Trophy-winning defenseman averages 26:21 of ice time per game, good enough for sixth in the league in that category. “In the situation we’re in right now, we don’t have a lot of experienced guys who can play those kinds of minutes.”
The Canadiens won’t have to wait long for a rematch, with their next game against the Panthers scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday night in Montreal.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com
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