The Montreal Canadiens' top line and their gold medal-winning goaltender were too much for the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.
Mac Pacioretty scored twice, and Thomas Vanek and David Desharnais each had a goal and an assist to lead the surging Canadiens to a 4-1 victory at BB&T Center. It was Montreal's fifth consecutive victory and eighth in nine games.
"They played really well again tonight," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "The chemistry is there; they are having a lot of fun playing together and it worked out again tonight."
Especially for Pacioretty, who scored for the first time in 17 career games against the Panthers.
"It's a good feeling. I haven't been able to score against this team so it's nice to come into this building a put a few on the board," Pacioretty said.
Carey Price made 36 saves for his fourth win in a row. Price did his best work in the final 20 minutes, when the Panthers outshot the Canadiens 15-3 but couldn't get a puck past him. Desharnais hit the empty net with 23.4 seconds remaining to ice the win.
The Canadiens (43-26-7) maintained their hold on second place in the Atlantic Division, which would give them the home-ice edge in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They lead the Tampa Bay Lightning by two points; the Lightning beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 in overtime.
"Obviously, we're trying to make a push toward the playoffs. It's all about timing and being able to play well at the right time," Price said.
Brad Boyes had the lone goal and Dan Ellis made 15 saves for the Panthers, who've dropped five of their past six games and are out of the playoff race.
"They capitalized on their chances," Boyes said. "They're a good team. I don't think they played their best, but they found a way to win."
Montreal came out flying, with Pacioretty forcing Ellis to stop him on a breakaway 20 seconds into the game. The Canadiens then killed two penalties against the League's worst power play before taking the lead midway through the period.
Vanek, acquired from the New York Islanders at the NHL Trade Deadline, got his 27th of the season and sixth in 12 games since the deal at 10:47 to open the scoring. Florida defenseman Brian Campbell whiffed on a pass in the neutral zone; Vanek picked up the puck, raced in and fired from the slot. Ellis made the save, but Vanek knocked in the rebound to put Montreal in front.
The Canadiens made it 2-0 at 17:03, one second after a penalty to Florida defenseman Erik Gudbranson expired. Before Gudbranson could get back in the play, Pacioretty came backdoor and easily knocked in Alexei Emelin's pass from inside the left circle.
"We need a better start," said Ellis, who made his second straight start in place of injured starter Roberto Luongo.
Florida dominated the first 13-plus minutes of the second period, but Price kept the Panthers off the board with a superb glove stop on Tomas Fleischmann 1:58 and an excellent stop on Scottie Upshall from the high slot 10 minutes later.
"Price was the biggest difference," Panthers interim coach Peter Horachek said. "They're a very mature team that capitalizes on their chances."
The Panthers then paid the price for a bad line change, leading to Pacioretty's second of the night at the 14-minute mark. Vanek was left free to carry the puck into the Florida zone. He found Desharnais, who was left alone for a 2-on-1 down low and slid the puck to an unchecked Pacioretty for an easy tap-in. It was Pacioretty's team-high 35th of the season.
Boyes finally got the Panthers on the board at 16:09, finishing a 3-on-2 rush by picking a small opening on the top short-side corner from the right faceoff dot for his 19th of the season, most on the Panthers.
"No finish," Boyes said. "We generated a lot of shots, a lot of chances ... again, a lack of scoring obviously hurt us."
Material from team media was used in this report.