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game recap

Panthers gain in Atlantic race with win against Canadiens

Move within three points of third place, Eastern wild card

by Alain Poupart / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

Huberdeau deposits Haula's set-up

MTL@FLA: Huberdeau buries Haula feed from in front

After a strong forecheck, Erik Haula finds Jonathan Huberdeau, who quickly scores from the edge of the paint to extend the Panthers lead to 3-0

  • 00:36 •

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers gained ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race with a 4-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens at BB&T Center on Saturday.

The Panthers (34-26-8) had not won at home since Jan. 16 (eight games). Florida moved within three points of the Toronto Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division, and of the New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets for a wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Let's use this momentum swing here and change the direction here in a real positive way," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "We have a great opportunity ahead of us and let's take advantage of it."

 

[WATCH: All Canadiens vs. Panthers highlights]

 

Chris Driedger made a second consecutive start for the Panthers with Sergei Bobrovsky out with a lower-body injury and made 33 saves. Lucas Wallmark scored his first goal in seven games with Florida since being acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes, and MacKenzie Weegar scored for a second consecutive game.

Video: MTL@FLA: Wallmark nets nifty backhander falling down

Jake Evans scored, and Charlie Lindgren made 28 saves for the Canadiens (31-30-9), who are eight points out of wild-card position.

"When you get some good chances, you need to bear down," Evans said. "That's what they did tonight. I feel like the game was pretty even for the most part. When they had their good chances, they were putting them in."

Driedger, who had not played an NHL game since Oct. 28, 2016 coming into the season, is 6-2-1 with a 2.16 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage. He stopped Max Domi on a breakaway at 4:37 of the second period to keep the score 0-0.

"You don't really have time to think about the logistics at that point," Driedger said. "Anyone in this league has done the preparation already, you just go out there and play. I think he was trying to cut back there, and I just sort of read that he was going to cut back. He ended up stuffing it into my stick there."

Wallmark scored at 10:22 of the second period when he came in alone on Lindgren after Noel Acciari's backhand deflection of Aaron Ekblad's outlet pass. His short backhand made it 1-0; it was his second goal since Jan. 10 (22 games).

"It means a lot, and it was a big goal for us too," Wallmark said. "It's nice to get that one out of the way. I felt a had a little speed there and could challenge him a little bit (with the backhand). It was a great pass right on my tape and it was nice to see the puck go in."

Florida killed a four-minute penalty later in the period, including 1:10 at 5-on-3.

"I don't know if it was the turning point, but we could have done a much better job," Montreal coach Claude Julien said. "Five-on-3, for some reason we were shooting from far out. We weren't taking the time to bring the puck a little closer to the net and create some better chances. We still had lots of time. It would have been good to score on that. It would have made probably a difference in the game."

Weegar made it 2-0 41 seconds into the third period with a one-timer from the point right after the Canadiens killed a penalty. Jonathan Huberdeau made it 3-0 at 4:13 when he redirected Erik Haula's centering pass from the boards. Evans scored at 8:04 to make it 3-1, and Mike Hoffman scored an empty-net goal with 1:54 left for the 4-1 final.

The Panthers retired the No. 1 jersey of goalie Roberto Luongo, the first player honored by Florida, prior to the game.

"There was a lot of talk to 'Do it for [Luongo]' in here," Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. "Obviously, [Driedger] had a great game, some guys scored some big goals and we had some huge blocks on that 5-on-3. It's something we can rally behind for the rest of the year."

Video: MTL@FLA: Weegar blasts Ekblad one-timer from distance

 

They said it

"We're all competitors at the highest level. You're expected to show up every single game and give it your all. I think motivation in here is definitely not a problem. Everyone is playing super hard. That's what you should be doing." -- Canadiens goalie Charlie Lindgren

"I thought we had a workmanlike type of game, more businesslike than we've had recently. We took that awful stretch we've had here and turned it into a different situation when you look at where we're sitting." -- Panthers coach Joel Quenneville

 

Need to know

Ekblad's reached 40 points (41; five goals, 36 assists) for the first time in his NHL career. ... Panthers defenseman Riley Stillman left in the first minute of the second period after being hit in the face in a collision with Canadiens forward Artturi Lehkonen. ... Panthers defenseman Anton Stralman played with a full visor after being hit in the face by a shot in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins on Thursday. ... Canadiens players wore a No. 16 decal on their helmets in honor of Hockey Hall of Fame forward Henri Richard, who died Friday at the age of 84.

 

What's next

Canadiens: Host the Nashville Predators on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; TSN2, RDS, FS-TN, NHL.TV)

Panthers: At the St. Louis Blues on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, SNE, SNO, SNP, FS-MW, FS-F, NHL.TV)

Video: Driedger makes 33 saves, helps Panthers top Canadiens

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