The Montreal Canadiens, who will visit the Florida Panthers on Thursday night at Sunrise, Fla.,have no choice but to play the spoiler role for the rest of this season.
That’s what happened on Tuesday as the visiting Canadiens — who have the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference — upset the playoff-contending Pittsburgh Penguins 6-4.
Montreal’s win snapped its seven-game losing streak.
“To win after a long stretch like that (0-5-2) is good for the team,” said Anthony Richard, who scored Montreal’s go-ahead goal to make it 5-4 in the third period. “It’s huge for momentum to beat a solid team like (Pittsburgh).”
Montreal’s win actually served as a favor for the Panthers, who are five points behind Pittsburgh for the top spot in the wild-card standings. The New York Islanders currently hold the second and final wild-card spot, but the Panthers are hoping to make their charge.
“We’re at the point in the season where you look at the standings daily,” Panthers forward Eric Staal said. “We’re finally healthy, and we’re starting to see good results.”
The Panthers are 4-1-1 in their past six games.
Panthers center Aleksander Barkov could be a factor on Thursday. In 29 career games against Montreal, he has an incredible 22 goals.
For the season, Matthew Tkachuk leads the Panthers in assists (57) and points (87) while ranking second in goals (30). This is his second straight season of at least 30 goals and the third of his career.
In addition, Tkachuk is closing in on his career high of 104 points, which he set last season while playing for the Calgary Flames.
Carter Verhaeghe leads Florida with a career-high 32 goals. Sam Reinhart is third on the Panthers with 23 goals, and his 11 power-play scores are second only to Tkachuk (12).
Brandon Montour leads Florida’s defensemen with 55 points, and he ranks first on the entire team with 20 power-play assists.
In net, the Panthers have relied heavily on Sergei Bobrovsky, who is 21-17-3 with a 2.98 goals-against average. In his career against Montreal, Bobrovsky is 14-7-1 with a 2.37 goals-against average.
Montreal is 0-2 against Florida this season, losing on the road 7-2 on December 29 and at home 6-2 on January 19.
Barkov totaled three goals and four assists in those two games.
Canadiens goalie Sam Montembeault — who played his first two NHL seasons with Florida — took the loss in both of those contests, allowing 12 overall goals.
This season, Montembeault, 26, has set a career high for wins. He is 13-13-3 with a 3.31 GAA. Montreal’s other goalie is Jake Allen, who is 14-22-3 with a 3.43 GAA.
Center Nick Suzuki leads Montreal in assists (30) and points (51). Cole Caufield, who is out for the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury, leads the Canadiens with a career-high 26 goals.
Suzuki, 23, was Montreal’s first-round pick in 2017 (13th pick overall). Caufield, 22, was Montreal’s first-round pick in 2019 (15th overall).
Montreal’s youth movement also includes Kirby Dach, 22, who has already set career highs in goals (12) and assists (23).
In addition to Caufield, the Canadiens will be without forward Christian Dvorak, who underwent season-ending knee surgery Wednesday. Dvorak had 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) in 64 games this season
Another player to watch is veteran sniper Mike Hoffman, who scored 65 goals in two seasons with the Panthers. Hoffman, 33, has just 11 goals this season.
–Field Level Media