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Habs seek home-ice advantage against Panthers

by Brian Hunter

PANTHERS (22-22-6) at CANADIENS (28-18-5)


Last 10:
Florida 4-2-4; Montreal 6-2-2

Season series: Third of four meetings this season. Each team has won once in its opponent's building. Tomas Vokoun stopped 40 shots and David Booth scored on a penalty shot as the Panthers prevailed 3-1 in Montreal on Oct. 30. James Wisniewski scored 3:41 into overtime to give the Canadiens a 3-2 victory in Florida on Dec. 31.

Big story: The first game coming out of the All-Star break for each team told the story of how things have been going lately. Both the Canadiens and Panthers have only two regulation losses in their last 10 games, however Montreal came through in a shootout Tuesday to edge Washington while Florida fell short in a penalty-shot tiebreaker of its own against Toronto.

Team Scope:

Panthers: An ability to pull out single points on four occasions masks the fact that Florida has dropped six of its last seven games. It's not that the Panthers aren't showing fight -- they rallied from three separate one-goal deficits against the Maple Leafs as Stephen Weiss, Booth and Cory Stillman all lit the lamp. But they still fell 4-3 in the shootout and remain 11th in the Eastern Conference, seven points behind the division rival Thrashers for the final playoff spot.

"You're never happy with one point," coach Peter DeBoer said, "but it was probably a fair outcome."

Canadiens: It figures to be an entertaining battle down the stretch in the Northeast Division as Montreal tries to chase down Boston for first place. The Canadiens kept pace with the Bruins and remained four points back by riding on the back of their captain Brian Gionta. He scored a pair of second-period goals to wipe out an early Capitals' lead, then notched the only goal of the shootout to give Montreal a 3-2 victory.

"Our guys just played solid defensively. In the second period, I don't think they had but about two shots until the five minute mark," said Carey Price, who stopped 27 shots and all three Washington attempts in the shootout. "We did an excellent job of coming back."

Who's hot: Stillman has 3 goals and 8 assists in his last 10 games for the Panthers. ... Tomas Plekanec has 4 goals and 5 assists in his last nine games for the Canadiens.

Injury report: Florida forward Shawn Matthias is expected to miss at least six weeks with a broken ankle. Defenseman Bryan McCabe is also out long term with a broken jaw. ... Montreal forward Michael Cammalleri is on injured reserve with a separated shoulder. Defensemen Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges are out for the season with knee injuries.

Stat pack:
The Panthers went 2-for-4 on the power play Tuesday after failing to convert on 14 chances over their previous five games. ... Price is 4-1-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average over his last six home starts for the Canadiens.

Puck drop: Athletes can be creatures of habit, goalies in particular, and Price had his routine disrupted Tuesday when he was forced to miss the morning skate because his equipment had gone missing. The team had switched buses due to a mechanical problem and Price's gear was left overnight in the first bus and eventually found and returned to him at the end of practice "in a frozen solid block," according to the goaltender.

"I really like pregame skates," Price said. "I like to get a sweat on, and I was getting a chill on this morning."

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