CANADIENS (20-16-2) at PANTHERS (16-17-1)
TV -- RDS (HD), TSN-HABS (HD), FS-Florida (HD)
Last 10 -- Montreal 2-8-0; Florida 6-3-1
Season series -- It’s the second of four meetings this season. David Booth scored the decisive goal on a penalty shot, while Michael Frolik and Shawn Matthias also tallied for Florida in a 3-1 win in Montreal on Oct. 30. Tomas Vokoun added 40 saves.
Big story -- There was a time not long ago when a decent amount of separation existed between the top eight in the Eastern Conference and the rest of the teams in pursuit of a playoff spot. Thanks to the Canadiens' struggles of late, that gap has closed considerably. The ninth-place Hurricanes sit just four points back and will have three games in hand after Friday. Even the Panthers can close to within seven points of the Habs with a regulation win.
Canadiens -- This is the finale of a seven-game road trip, and at this point it's safe to say Montreal can't wait to get back to the friendly confines of the Bell Centre, where it will play three in a row to start the new year. Friday's contest marks the 10th out of 15 in December on the road. The Canadiens are 1-5-0 on the current trip, including Thursday's 4-1 loss to the Lightning in which Max Pacioretty scored just 58 seconds in and the offense fell silent for the rest of the night against ex-Montreal farmhand Cedrick Desjardins, who was making his NHL debut.
"Things just fell apart, but we'll come out of this," rookie defenseman P.K. Subban said.
Panthers -- In traditional fashion, Florida will enter 2011 trying to make up ground on the teams ahead in the playoff race. The Panthers have been picking up points of late, going 3-1-1 in their last five. They let a valuable point slip away Monday to the visiting Bruins, however. Second-period goals by Booth and Mike Santorelli put them up one heading into the third, but Boston managed the tying goal and went on to drop Florida 3-2 in a shootout.
"We had opportunities at different points in the game to extend the one-goal lead to two, some point-blank chances," coach Peter DeBoer said, pointing to Bruins goalie Tim Thomas as the difference-maker. "And he either made a save or we just missed. You let a team like that hang around, that's what happens."
Who's hot -- Scott Gomez has 1 goal and 8 assists in his last eight games for the Canadiens. ... Stephen Weiss has 5 goals and 6 assists in his last nine games for the Panthers.
Injury report -- Knee injuries have sidelined Montreal defensemen Josh Gorges temporarily and Andrei Markov for the remainder of the season. ... Florida should have reinforcements Friday as forwards Rostislav Olesz, Cory Stillman and Radek Dvorak are all expected to be activated off injured reserve. Booth, however, is day-to-day with a hip injury.
Stat pack -- Canadiens defenseman James Wisniewski was a plus-1 in 21:48 of ice time in his debut with the team but saw the six-game points streak he had fashioned with the Islanders before being traded come to an end. ... The Panthers became the final team in the NHL to lose a game that went beyond regulation -- they had been 1-0 in overtime and 2-0 in shootouts before losing to the Bruins.
Puck drop -- It's become a bit of a tradition in the Sunshine State for Florida and Montreal to meet on New Year's Eve, and the Canadiens have had the upper hand in winning the last three such meetings. The Panthers want to end 2010 on a high note and silence the large contingent of Habs' supporters who show up for these games.
"We want to hear, 'Go Cats Go,' '' Matthias told the Florida Sun-Sentinel. "They're going to want to pay us back but we need these two points and can't let them come in here and steal them.''