Rookie Michael Frolik says he's gaining comfort and confidence that he can succeed in the NHL. The same could be said of his Florida Panthers.
In the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt, the Panthers seek their sixth win in nine games on Thursday night as they try to snap a five-game losing streak to the slumping Montreal Canadiens.
Florida (22-17-8) has not appeared in a postseason since 1999-2000, and has not won a playoff game since 1997, but those droughts could end this season as the Panthers are currently jockeying with Pittsburgh and Carolina for the final playoff spot in the East.
They had dropped the first two contests of their four-game homestand, but bounced back Tuesday night with a 3-2 victory over Philadelphia. Frolik had a goal and two assists for his first career three-point game. The 20-year-old rookie center had no points in his first 10 NHL games, but is now coming on strong with four goals and four assists in his last 10.
"At the start of the season I didn't get much ice time," Frolik said. "Now I'm playing more and more and the coach is believing in me more and more. I'm getting more comfortable and confident."
Frolik has one goal in three games against Montreal - a tally in the Panthers' 5-2 home loss on Dec. 29.
Tomas Vokoun, originally drafted by the Canadiens in 1994, made 33 saves to earn the win Tuesday. He is 0-1-0 with a 1.59 GAA in two appearances against the Canadiens in 2008-09.
The Panthers have dropped all three meetings with Montreal this season and five in a row to the Canadiens since a 3-2 victory on Dec. 18, 2007, but they may be catching the Canadiens (27-14-6) at the right time to end the drought.
The reigning Northeast Division champions went 11-2-1 from Dec. 18-Jan. 17, but have since lost three straight - all in regulation. They haven't dropped four in a row since Feb. 27-March 8, 2007.
Montreal put 20 shots on goal in the first period on Tuesday night, but couldn't take advantage and fell 5-3 at Tampa Bay. The Canadiens have allowed 18 goals through the first four games of their five-game road trip. Carey Price has taken the last two losses, but coach Guy Carbonneau refuses to make a scapegoat of his goaltender.
"You can't blame him for everything," Carbonneau said. "But on the other side, our goalies are going to have to be stronger. We can't win games giving up four of five goals every game, and the last two or three weeks it's been kind of that way."
Maxim Lapierre scored his career-high ninth goal of the season in Tuesday's defeat. He tallied one-third of those goals in a 5-2 victory over the Panthers on Dec. 29 in Florida, notching his first hat trick.
Andrei Markov assisted on Lapierre's goal against the Lightning, extending his assist streak to nine games. The defenseman has two assists in the three wins over Florida this season.