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Panthers-Canadiens Preview @NHL

On Saturday, four Montreal Canadiens were selected as All-Star starters for the midseason classic, which will take place later this month in Montreal.

To the Florida Panthers, though, there may be one Canadien who was overlooked.

Montreal's Maxim Lapierre will face the Panthers for the first time since recording his first NHL hat trick against them earlier this week when the teams get together Sunday afternoon at the Bell Centre.

Lapierre hasn't been much of an offensive force since breaking into the NHL a little more than two years ago. He scored 13 goals in his first 100 games in the league, and had four this season through 31 games.

On Monday in Florida, however, Lapierre delivered the best performance of his career.

Alex Kovalev - one of the Canadiens' four All-Star starters - scored a power-play goal in the first period, but late in the second the score was tied at two. That's when Lapierre took over, as the center scored the game's final three goals to give Montreal (21-10-6) a 5-2 win, its fourth straight over the Panthers.

"For a defensive player, for a guy that brings energy to the game, it's always fun to contribute in other ways," coach Guy Carbonneau said about Lapierre. "At the start of the year, he was getting rid of the puck a little too much, he didn't want to make mistakes. Now he's playing with more confidence."

But following a 2-1 win at Tampa Bay on Tuesday, neither Kovalev nor Lapierre could get any offense going against New Jersey.

With an injury-plagued lineup missing All-Star goaltender Carey Price and left wing Alex Tanguay - along with forwards Christopher Higgins and Saku Koivu - Montreal could only muster a goal from rookie Max Pacioretty in a 4-1 loss at New Jersey.

Goaltender Jaroslav Halak made his first start since Dec. 20, subbing for Price, who's day-to-day with a lower-body injury. The news isn't nearly as promising for Tanguay - second on the team with 10 goals - who will miss six weeks with a left shoulder injury.

That means that Pacioretty, the team's No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft, will need to step up. He was glad to score his first goal in his NHL debut.

"I'm glad to get the first one out of the way," Pacioretty said. "I know I have to play a lot better to stick around here. I think I'll be able to play better now that I got the first one out of the way. I wasn't handling the puck too well. Maybe it was the nerves."

Florida (17-16-5) was 0-3-1 in its last four games in December, but got the new year off to a great start. The Panthers scored six goals for the first time since their first game of the season, routing Pittsburgh 6-1 on the road Saturday afternoon behind two goals from Nathan Horton.

"It was a huge game... I couldn't have scripted anything better," coach Peter DeBoer said. "It's hopefully what the doctor ordered for us."

It was the fourth goal in four games for Horton, who up until this point has had a disappointing season. The center has scored at least 27 goals in each of his last three seasons, but had only five before his recent surge.

Horton hasn't produced a point in his last five games against Montreal.

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