MONTREAL - Not even a cross-check in the neck could dampen Jozef Stumpel's spirits after the Florida Panthers' latest win.
The Slovak scored the opening goal, ending a 15-game goalless drought, as the Panthers skated to a 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night. "It's nice to have a good game and get more ice time and play with good players," said Stumpel, who scored his first goal since Nov. 12 against Carolina.
"I wasn't playing that good and the coach was mixing up the lines, so sometimes you get less ice time. I hope it goes better now."
The game ended with the Canadiens battling furiously but in vain for the equalizer after Andrei Markov got his second of the game with 24 seconds left to play.
As time was running out, Montreal captain Saku Koivu cross-checked Stumpel in the back of the neck, drawing a major penalty and a game misconduct at the 20:00 mark.
"I just tried to keep him on the boards and after that, I fell down and when I got up, he cross-checked me in the back," said Stumpel, who emerged uninjured other than being a little sore. "Maybe he was a little mad."
Koivu said he was unaware he had been penalized.
He won't get an automatic suspension, but the league could review the incident and impose further discipline.
It was a frustrating game all around for Montreal, which was outhustled for most of the game and endured prolonged booing from the sellout crowd of 21,273.
Brett McLean and Stephen Weiss also scored for the Panthers (16-16-2), who won a second game in a row. They have only one regulation time loss in their last six. And they ended a four-game road trip with a 3-1-0 record.
"It was one of our best games of the year," said goaltender Tomas Vokoun. "We worked hard and played well defensively."
The Canadiens (16-12-5) ended a two-game winning run and now have only one win in their last eight home games.
"The last two games, we thought we were there - we played a solid 60 minutes," said coach Guy Carbonneau. "You hope it will go on, but then you get a game like this to bring you back to earth.
"It's something I didn't understand when I was a player and I don't understand it now that I'm a coach.
Florida, the only team with a winning record against the Canadiens, is 25-20-8 all-time against the 24-time Stanley Cup winners, including 12-10-5 in Montreal.
The Canadiens have scored only three goals in regulation time in their last four meetings with tight-checking Florida at the Bell Centre.
A Mike Komisarek turnover led to a Florida two-on-one and Olli Jokinen set up Stumpel for an easy shot into an open side 14:13 into the game. It was Stumpel's first point in 10 games.
At 18:12, rookie goalie Carey Price made an ill-advised trip to the corner to play a shoot-in and found himself pressured by Richard Zednik.
His weak clearing attempt was picked off at the blue-line by McLean, who fired the puck past Komisarek, who tried in vain to play goal.
"I went out and tried to help my defenceman," said Price. "I moved it too quick and it wound up on the wrong stick."
Carbonneau said he has no problem with Price leaving the crease to play pucks, but "he has to be careful. We tell our defenceman and our forwards not to play the puck up the middle."
Weiss made it 3-0 when he beat Price with a blast from the left circle on a rush at 7:05 of the third frame, but Markov's shot got through traffic and past Vokoun at 8:25.
Markov's point blast in the final minute also trickled through.
It was Montreal's last home game of 2007. They begin a run of six straight road games Thursday night in Washington.
The Panthers return home to face Carolina on Thursday.
Notes - Guillaume Latendresse was a healthy scratch for Montreal. . . Florida's David Booth skated Tuesday morning but missed a fourth game with a bruised knee. Ville Peltonen remains out with a broken foot. . . The Canadiens farm club in Hamilton claimed forward Daniel Corso off AHL waivers from the Houston Aeros and sent Cory Urquhart to Cincinnati of the ECHL.