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Canadiens cruise to 5-2 win over Panthers

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla.Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien had a good laugh as he relived the first goal his team allowed Sunday afternoon — a goal mistakenly put in by Habs defenseman Francis Bouillon as he tried to clear the puck.

"What a great shot it was," Therrien joked. "Might put him in the front of the net for the next power play."

Therrien had good reason to be in a jovial mood after his team put an exclamation point on its longest road trip of the season.

Led by Michael Ryder's two power-play goals and one assist, the Canadiens completed their first-ever season sweep of the Florida Panthers while wrapping up a 4-1-0 road trip with a 5-2 victory at BB&T Center.

"It was a sensational trip," Therrien said. "As I told the players before tonight's game, it already was a good trip and we had the chance to make it exceptional. I really liked the way we dictated the game. We played at our tempo from start to finish."

The first goal was the 100th in a Montreal uniform for Ryder, but his first in seven games since the Canadiens brought him back in a trade with the Dallas Stars on Feb. 26.

"Yeah, it was a while," said Ryder, who now has 205 in his NHL career. "I was getting a couple of chances, but it was good to finally get the monkey off my back there.

"They brought me in to help offensively and on the power play. That's what I want to try to do and try to help the team. I'm feeling a lot more comfortable on the ice now."

The only setback on the road trip, which began with a 4-3 victory against the Boston Bruins on March 3, was a 6-3 loss against the New York Islanders Tuesday — Montreal's only regulation loss in its last 15 games (11-1-3).

The trip ended with victories on consecutive nights after Montreal rallied for three third-period goals to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 Saturday night.

"It was a week that definitely could have hurt us in the standings if we didn't come ready to play," captain Brian Gionta said. "You get a long road trip like that, you want to be successful and we're pretty happy with the results."

Before scoring into his own net, Bouillon had scored his first goal of the season to give Montreal a 4-0 lead late in the second period.

Gionta had a goal an assist, and David Desharnais had the other Montreal goal. P.K. Subban had three assists.

Montreal led 4-0 after two periods before Florida got goals from Tomas Kopecky (who got credit when Bouillon scored in his own net) and Shawn Matthias. The Canadiens outshot the Panthers 38-16.

"They were ripe for the picking there and we didn't take advantage of it," Matthias said. "5-2 is not acceptable, especially when a team is at the end of their road trip."

Canadiens goalie Peter Budaj made 14 saves and lost his bid for his second shutout of the season — and Montreal's second in a row at BB&T Center — with 12:01 left in the game.

The Canadiens beat Florida 1-0 in overtime on Feb. 14 with Carey Price in net. The Canadiens also beat the Panthers 4-1 at Bell Centre Jan. 22.

The sweep comes one year after Florida took all four meetings with the Canadiens.

"Every year is different," Subban said. "One thing I've learned about the NHL is momentum doesn't carry from season to season. It's built from game one to the last game of the season. We've generated a lot of momentum for our hockey club. It's up to us to continue to do that.

"The older guys on this team are doing a great job of keeping us ready to play every night. We want to be a playoff team. We want to be a contender. You have to show up every night to do that."

With the victory, Montreal maintained its one-point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins atop the Eastern Conference and extended their margin in the Northeast Division over the Boston Bruins to three points, although Boston does have four games in hand.

The Canadiens scored at least three goals for a seventh consecutive game. They last scored fewer than three on Feb. 25 in a 2-1 overtime loss against the Ottawa Senators.

"Everything is going well for our team right now," Subban said. "It's easy for anybody to do an interview. Hopefully this continues."

Florida, which has the worst record in the National Hockey League, lost for the sixth time in seven games and the 13th time in 16.

"Losing in general is unacceptable," Matthias said. "We've been through this before and it's not fun. I'm sick of losing, sick of being down. It's wearing on you. We need to change things. We need to turn the ship around. It's too frustrating now, it's gone on long enough."

Jacob Markstrom made his fourth consecutive start in net since being recalled from the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League and stopped 33 shots.

Markstrom gave up a goal in the first 2:35 for the third consecutive game, but his goaltending kept the Panthers in the game until late in the second period.

Kopecky's goal was the 10th of the season, matching his total from 2011-12. Matthias' goal was his fourth in six games.

Playing in front of a pro-Canadiens crowd, Montreal opened the scoring just 1:46 into the game on a nice individual effort by Desharnais. After getting the puck just inside the Montreal blue line, he carried into the Florida zone, made a quick move to his left to avoid defenseman Tyson Strachan, then fired a wrist shot from just inside the left circle that beat Markstrom high to the glove side.

The reaction from the crowd made it sound like Montreal was the home team.

"It [gets you angry], especially when you're going out before the anthem and you hear everyone going nuts," Matthias said. "It does bother you. We didn't really give our fans too much to cheer about tonight, and they did for theirs, so what can you say? We didn't silence them, so what do you expect?"

Ryder made it 2-0 at 11:18 with 13 seconds left in a Montreal power play when he tipped in Subban's wrist shot from the point.

Ryder's second goal at 15:57 of the third also came in the third period, also on a tip of a Subban shot.

"I just tried to get it to the net," Subban said. "There's some points where you try to aim, but for the most part my job is just to get pucks to the net. When I've got the lane to shoot it, I've got to shoot it. Credit to those guys. [Ryder] has done a great job of getting his stick on pucks and creating rebounds and doing all those great things."

The Canadiens scored twice in a span of 2:12 late in the second to put the game away and make Bouillon's boo-boo simply joking material.

"Absolutely not," Budaj said when asked whether he was mad at Bouillon for ending his shutout bid. "He's blocked many shots for me before and saved my butt many times. It happens. It's not a big deal. We won the game. We can laugh about it and make some jokes about it."

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