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Panthers snap Habs' streak behind Vokoun's 40 saves

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL - Peter DeBoer pushed all the right buttons to get his Florida Panthers a much-needed win and cool off the red-hot Montreal Canadiens.

He scratched Shawn Matthias two games earlier, did the same to Michal Frolik for a 5-3 loss in Ottawa on Thursday and benched David Booth in the third period of that game.

All three players responded with goals Saturday night and Tomas Vokoun broke out of his recent funk with 40 saves as the Panthers halted the Canadiens four-game win streak with a 3-1 victory at the Bell Centre.

"We got the response we wanted after the Ottawa game and that was important," said DeBoer, who was informed by a reporter afterwards that it was his first career win in Montreal on his fifth try. "We went off the map a little and instead of skating (Friday) we took the day off to get ready for tonight. I thought the guys responded with a real gritty effort."

The Panthers (4-5-0), who snapped a two-game losing streak, are the League's least-penalized team but they needed their penalty-killers to come up big to get the win.

They shut out the Canadiens' struggling power play on five chances, including a 5-on-3 for 1:25 to start the third period -- a span in which Vokoun had to be sharp to maintain what was then a one-goal lead.

But he got some help from defenseman Dennis Wideman, who got across to block what would have been a sure goal by Brian Gionta on a puck lying in the crease.

"I knew the puck was over there and there had to be one of their guys over there," said Wideman, who logged a team-high 23:45 of ice time. "So I just threw everything I had that way. I still don't really know how it stayed out."

Mathieu Darche scored the lone goal for the Canadiens (7-2-1) in the first game of the season for No. 1 defenseman Andrei Markov.

Markov got a nice hand from the usual sellout crowd of 21,273 when he took his first few shifts, and his presence on Montreal's 29th-ranked power play made it appear a bit more dangerous even if it didn't score.

Markov was not at all eased into action - logging 23:03 of ice time - and he appeared to want to make up for the 10 games he missed in one shot, jumping into the rush with regularity. But his timing looked a bit off as his usually pinpoint breakout passes often missed their target and he got caught up ice on a couple of occasions.

"I was lost a little bit, it's much different compared to practice," said Markov, whose last game action was April 30, when he injured his knee in the playoffs. "In the first period it was a little tough, but in the second and third I felt better."

Oddly, when Montreal had that 5-on-3 power play and trailed by a goal, Markov was not used.

He was asked afterwards why that was and he referred the question to coach Jacques Martin, who said he was happy with the work done by his unit of Gionta, Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plekanec, P.K. Subban and Michael Cammalleri on the point.

"We had some chances," Martin said. "We just didn't capitalize."

Vokoun entered the game with one win and 12 goals allowed on only 84 shots in his previous three starts, but he bounced back beautifully against the Canadiens, the team that drafted him in the ninth round back in 1994.

He was particularly good on another Canadiens power play late in the third, robbing Cammalleri on a rebound chance from point-blank range to maintain Florida's one-goal margin.

Matthias put a rebound past Carey Price moments afterwards at 16:38 of the third to make it 3-1 Panthers.

"Give the credit to Vokoun, he played well," said Plekanec, Vokoun's teammate on the Czech Republic team in the 2010 Winter Olympics. "He made some very strong saves throughout the whole game."

Price made 28 stops, including a spectacular one on Booth's breakaway in the second period.

Frolik's goal in the first period showed some craftiness, as Price made a great glove save on his one-timer from the slot but he managed to roof a backhand in off the rebound at 12:10 for his first of the season.

Darche tied it early in the second on a heady play of his own, driving out from behind the net and banking it in off Vokoun for his second in three games.

Booth got the winner on a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway by Jaroslav Spacek. He threw a deke on Price before roofing a forehand for his fourth of the season at 11:19 of the second.

"I just wanted to get him moving side to side because he usually stops the first shot," Booth said. "It worked."

The Panthers got some bad news prior to the game when top center Stephen Weiss went down to an ankle injury suffered while kicking a soccer ball around in the Bell Centre hallways prior to the morning skate.

But they played a strong road game in his absence, bottling the Canadiens up in the neutral zone and relying on Vokoun to be there when Montreal was able to pierce through the defense.

"It was obviously a much better effort, a grittier performance," DeBoer said. "We did what we had to do on the road and got great goaltending."

The Canadiens handled Markov's absence much better than they have in recent years with a 7-2-1 mark. Since 2005 the Canadiens had been 19-36-6 in the 61 games Markov missed to injury, including a 14-20-3 regular season record last year as the defenseman missed most of the first half with a severed tendon in his foot.

Montreal went 5-6 in the playoffs after Markov tore the ACL in his right knee on a clean hit by Matt Cooke in Game 1 of the second round against Pittsburgh.

Despite the loss, the Canadiens still completed a busy week with three wins in four games and Martin is happy with what he's seeing from his club.

"We need to make some adjustments but you have to stay positive," Martin said. "We got six out of eight points this week. But we had a chance to get all eight."

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