PANTHERS 3, CANADIENS 1
MONTREAL – Saturday was a day of redemption for the Panthers.
Michael Frolik was benched on Thursday, scores the first goal on Saturday. Shawn Matthias? He was benched Tuesday in Toronto – only to score Saturday's game-clinching goal. Even David Booth found the pine as coach Pete DeBoer sat him down during the third period of the Ottawa loss.
All Booth did was score the game-winning goal on a penalty shot.
Florida, which hadn't won in Montreal in almost three years, played perhaps its best game of the season as the Panthers stunned the host Canadiens 3-1 at Bell Center. Florida snapped its losing streak at two while ending Montreal's four-game winning streak.
“I would think it's a 360. Obviously it was a much better performance,'' said DeBoer, 0-4 all-time in Montreal before Saturday's win. “We did what we had to do, got good goaltending. That's a great team that comes at you with a lot of speed. They throw a lot out at you. We got the response we wanted after the Ottawa game, that's for sure.''
On Saturday, the Panthers did all the things they didn't do in Ottawa. Things like crashing the net, dropping down to block shots, grinding the puck out of the corner, winning faceoffs. Florida ended up winning 52 percent of the drops on Saturday and had 20 hits. During a lengthy 5-on-3 penalty kill (one Montreal's worse-than-Florida's power play failed to score on), Bryan McCabe dropped to the ice to block a shot.
Later, defenseman Dennis Wideman jumped into the net to help goalie Tomas Vokoun (40 saves) keep the puck from going in. “Sometimes as a goalie,'' Vokoun said, “you need a little luck.''
Frolik, Booth and Matthias may have gotten the glory for their goals, but Saturday's win involved all 19 players who saw the ice.
“Some guys who have struggled the past couple of games really picked it up,'' Wideman said. “We need everyone going if we're going to win. We were more focused tonight – everyone was. Vokoun had to make some big saves and we need to tighten up there, but I think we're learning, we're coming together as the year goes on.''
Frolik started the Panthers off by following up his own rebound by scoring with 7:50 left in the first period. After Montreal tied it early in the second, Booth got loose on a breakaway but was stopped cold by Carey Price on successive shots. Moments later, Booth would get dragged down by Jaroslav Spacek – the same player who ended Booth's 2009-10 season with a concussion-causing hit. Booth took beat Price this time on Florida's first penalty shot of the season.
“I was just trying to get going, I didn't care who it was, I was just trying to keep my feet moving,'' Booth said. “I don't look into [Spacek] too much. That was more of an accident than anything else. That's all behind me. It's a new year.''
Matthias later scored the clinching goal after Stephen Reinprecht (who was benched for the first three games of the season) stole a puck at center ice and drove in on Price. The Habs goalie stopped Reinprecht's shot – but couldn't stop Matthias' follow up.
“We didn't have a good game in Ottawa and this was a big game for us because we didn't want to go home 0-3,'' Vokoun said. “We played solid. We worked well around the net, got some rebound goals around the net. That's what's been missing. We didn't get those the last couple of games. We did tonight.''
The Panthers played without top line center Stephen Weiss after he rolled his ankle warming up for Saturday's morning skate. Weiss was playing a form of soccer in the Bell Center hallway with hallway with some teammates when he was injured.
The warm-up soccer game, in which players line up in a circle and try to knock each other other until there is only one standing, is common in NHL arenas. But, there have been players hurt during such games. Two seasons ago, Minnesota star forward Marian Gaborik pulled a groin while playing such a game at BankAtlantic Center before the Wild played the Panthers. Gaborik, now with the Rangers, was lost for most of the season because of the injury.
“He's in a little bit of pain. It was a fluke thing you can't do anything about,'' DeBoer said. “You can't bubblewrap these guys. Those kind of things happen during a long season and you deal with it. Someone else gets the opportunity.''