Panthers aim to end home losing skid vs. Canadiens

NHL
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Two teams struggling to get into playoff contention in the Eastern Conference will meet on Saturday night when the Montreal Canadiens visit the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla.

The Panthers have lost eight straight home games to break the previous franchise record, which was set in 2003.

Prior to Saturday’s game, the Panthers will retire former goalie Roberto Luongo’s No. 1 jersey.

But aside from the attention that ceremony will receive from fans, the Panthers (74 points) are in a desperate push to try to catch the Toronto Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division. Montreal (71 points) also trails Toronto (79 points entering Friday).

On Thursday, the Panthers played well defensively but lost 2-1 in overtime to the visiting Boston Bruins, who have the most points of any team in the NHL.

“It (stinks) losing, especially after all the effort we put in,” said defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, who scored the only Panthers goal.

“It’s one of our best defensive games of the year.”

The Panthers were the highest-scoring team in the NHL and on a six-game win streak at the All-Star break. Since then, they are 5-10-3.

One bright spot for the Panthers is the return of goalie Chris Driedger, who played Thursday after being recalled on Monday from Springfield of the American Hockey League.

Driedger, who had been injured, played his first NHL game since Jan. 16, which was also Florida’s last home win. Driedger made 26 saves against the Bruins.

“He did everything we were hoping he would do,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of Driedger. “He looked big in the net, comfortable.”

Montreal lost 4-0 on Thursday at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“The compete level and the work ethic — I have nothing to complain about,” Montreal coach Claude Julien said of his team. “We tried hard.”

The Canadiens played without their top two goal-scorers — wingers Tomas Tatar (upper body) and Brendan Gallagher (flu). Each of them has 22 goals.

Tatar, who was injured on Tuesday night against the New York Islanders, flew back to Montreal to receive more tests. Tatar also leads Montreal in assists (39) and points (61).

Gallagher, who is fourth on the team with 43 points, missed Thursday’s morning skate due to flu-like symptoms and was then scratched from the Lightning game. He is questionable to face the Panthers.

Montreal recalled center Lukas Vejdemo from Laval of the American Hockey League to provide depth. Vejdemo logged 7:49 of ice time and finished with a minus-1 rating.

Another Canadiens winger, Jonathan Drouin, hasn’t played since Feb. 25. He has seven goals and 15 points in 27 games after scoring 18 goals last season.

Saturday’s goalies figure to be Montreal’s Carey Price against Driedger.

Price is 27-24-6 with a 2.77 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.

Driedger is 5-2-1 with a 2.29 GAA and .932 save percentage. Bobrovsky, who has a lower-body injury and is questionable for Saturday, is 23-19-6 with a 3.23 GAA and a .900 save percentage.

The teams have split their only two meetings this season.

Florida posted a 6-5 victory over Montreal on Dec. 29 at Sunrise. The host Canadiens, in turn, blanked the Panthers 4-0 on Feb. 1. Price was in net against Bobrovsky for both of those games.

–Field Level Media

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