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Panthers 1, Canadiens 0 @NHLdotcom

MONTREAL (AP) -After following in Tony Esposito's footsteps in Chicago, Ed Belfour was happy to catch up with the legendary goalie in Montreal.

Belfour made 29 saves for his first shutout in nearly three years and Jay Bouwmeester scored late in the second period to lift the Florida Panthers to a 1-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night.

The 41-year-old goalie's 76th career shutout drew him even for eighth on the NHL career list with Esposito, who had two shutouts with Montreal at the outset of his career before going forging a Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Blackhawks.

"It's definitely an honor to be tied with Tony, one of my heroes," said Belfour, who began his career with Chicago in 1988, four years after Esposito retired.

Belfour made a sprawling pad save on Steve Begin midway through the third and survived a late flurry to earn his first shutout in 37 games with Florida this season. It was his first blanking since April 3, 2004, at Ottawa with Toronto - a span of 86 games.

"This guy's unbelievable as far as taking care of his body, as far as stretching and understanding his body and knowing what he has to do," Panthers coach Jacques Martin said. "It's nice to see him get some results."

Bouwmeester scored his ninth goal 16:16 into the second for the Panthers, who won for the third time in four games against Montreal this season.

Cristobal Huet stopped 24 shots for the Canadiens, who lost their fourth in a row. Montreal is 8-15-1 since its season-high, five-game winning streak from Dec. 12-21.

"It's like walking in quicksand. You take one step forward and three steps back," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. "You have to work twice as hard to get somewhere. It seems like that's what we're doing right now."

Kamil Kreps had a goal disallowed midway through the third for Florida. Referee Kerry Fraser immediately waved off what would have been Kreps' first NHL goal, ruling that Juraj Kolnik interfered with Huet.

Montreal defenseman Sheldon Souray hit the left post during a long two-man advantage for the Canadiens, which was cut short by 20 seconds when captain Saku Koivu was sent off for tripping.

Bouwmeester's goal was the first scored in two games between the teams in Montreal this season, ending a scoreless streak that lasted 101 minutes, 16 seconds. Huet and Florida's Alex Auld both got credit for shutouts in Montreal's 1-0 shootout win on Nov. 28.

"Somehow we play pretty good defense against this team," Panthers captain Olli Jokinen said. "Both goalies played well. The first two periods we probably had better chances than they did and we managed to score that one goal. The third period, they got some chances and we took some penalties but Eddie was outstanding."

Alex Kovalev didn't dress for the Canadiens because of an upper body injury. The Russian right wing was benched for most of the third period in Saturday's 5-3 loss to Ottawa.

The Panthers had a 12-5 shots advantage in the first and finally broke through on Huet late in the second.

Bouwmeester jumped on a lose puck in front of the crease and flipped it over the Canadiens goalie, who was sprawled along the ice.

Montreal had a magnificent opportunity to draw even when Stephen Weiss was given a delay of game penalty for flipping the puck over the glass at 14:12. Alexei Semenov had gone off for hooking six seconds earlier.

Souray, Montreal's leading scorer, had the best chance for a goal on the ensuing 5-on-3 power play but his point shot struck the left post.

Notes: Kreps has one assist in nine games this season. ... Canadiens D Craig Rivet missed his third straight game. He is recovering from pneumonia and is expected to also sit out on Wednesday in New Jersey.

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