MONTREAL - Francis Bouillon made a triumphant return from a knee injury by scoring the winning goal in the third period as the Montreal Canadiens extended their winning streak to five games with a 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Monday.
Saku Koivu scored in his third straight game and Tomas Plekanec scored into an empty net for the Canadiens (5-0-1), one of four NHL teams remaining who haven't lost in regulation time this season.
Jaroslav Halak made 35 saves, and Andrei Markov extended his points streak to six games with an assist on Koivu's goal.
Keith Ballard scored his first for the Panthers (2-3-0), who lost in regulation for the first time in their last 10 games at the Bell Centre.
Tomas Vokoun made 31 stops for the Panthers but it wasn't enough as Halak kept his teammates at bay in the Montreal net.
The Canadiens, who had practically no injuries of major consequence on their way to finishing first in the Eastern Conference last season, were missing Chris Higgins (groin), Andrei Kostitsyn (head), Georges Laraque (groin) and Steve Begin (flu).
In addition to the return of Bouillon from a knee injury, centre Kyle Chipchura was called up from Hamilton of the AHL and played on a wing with Robert Lang and Tom Kostopoulos.
With the Canadiens ahead 1-0, the Panthers began the third by applying serious pressure in the Canadiens end and it ultimately paid off.
Cory Stillman walked into the Canadiens zone and uncorked a shot from the high slot that Halak stopped, but the rebound went right to Ballard who roofed it for his first in a Panthers uniform at 7:20 of the third.
Rostislav Olesz took an interference penalty at 8:06, and even though Montreal didn't score the power play appeared to shift the momentum in the Canadiens' favour.
On the first shift after the power play a weak Florida clearing attempt came to the point, where Bouillon one-timed a slap shot that got past a Mathieu Dandenault screen and beat Vokoun to the blocker side at 10:53 of the third.
Canadiens centre Maxim Lapierre took a holding the stick penalty in the offensive zone with 2:17 to play, but Plekanec managed to pot the insurance marker into an empty net at 19:38 to ice it.
The first period remained scoreless largely because of Halak, as he made big stops on Olesz and Nathan Horton early on while the Canadiens had trouble generating chances at the other end.
Montreal took the lead the lead at 2:07 of the second period when Markov found himself behind the Panthers defence and whiffed on a shot attempt but then blindly dropped a pass to Koivu, who tucked it inside the far post for his third of the season.
Notes: The Panthers were missing defencemen Bryan McCabe (back) and Bryan Allen (neck). McCabe missed his fourth straight game while Allen sat out a third in a row. . . . The Canadiens held the first of eight vintage jersey nights Monday, with Montreal dressed in their road whites instead of their usual home reds. The Canadiens wore the white uniforms at home from 1970-71 to 2002-03. . . . Panthers winger Radek Dvorak played his 900th career game