CANADIENS 3, PANTHERS 2
MONTREAL – It's never too early to talk about the NHL's trade deadline in Canada, so coach Pete DeBoer knew he would have to address the subject on this road trip.
It's not like he or his players haven't been thinking about it anyway.
With the Panthers in their usual spot of looking up at the final playoff spot with envy, DeBoer and the Panthers know they can't afford too many more losses before general manager Dale Tallon begins tearing things down a little earlier than some players may like.
Those Panthers who want to stick around didn't help their cause with Wednesday's 3-2 loss to Montreal at Bell Center. The Panthers had a chance in the past two nights to pick up some serious ground but pulled one point closer to the postseason. With wins in Toronto and Montreal, the Panthers would have picked up four points.
Instead, the Panthers continue to trail Atlanta by seven points for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. Florida has lost seven of the past eight and three straight.
If Tallon hasn't been making calls before, well .-.-.
“It's not a distraction. It's a motivator,'' DeBoer said before the loss. “It's been very clear that in four weeks from now, this thing is going to go one of two ways. It's our job as players and coaches to make the decision very hard on Dale. These are desperate times for the Florida Panthers.''
Afterward, DeBoer admitted it was tough to watch opportunities continue to slip away.
“It's hard. What do you want me to say? I'm not going to hang myself,'' he said. “It's frustrating. This is a tough league and we're a team with some depth issues. We have young kids playing some key positions. They are working hard but it's not translating into points. .-.-. The fact we're not 2-0 or winning every night, well, I don't know if that's realistic.''
As usual, the Panthers played a good defensive game and held a 1-0 lead on the Canadiens. Only the slim lead didn't last, and Montreal got a fluke goal midway through the third and held on for the win.
With 14:14 remaining in a tie game, Montreal's Tomas Plekanec took aim at Tomas Vokoun as Brian Gionta was crashing the net. The puck struck the bottom of Stephen Weiss' skate as he was trying the stop and bounced past Vokoun and into the net. Gionta scored a bit later to make it 3-1.
“I don't know what to say. It's just frustrating,'' said a sullen Weiss, who pulled Florida within one by scoring with 2:10 left. “We play hard, we just have to be better at finding ways to win. That's the bottom line. We make one mistake and it ends up in our net, every single time. A turnover here, it's in the net. Deflection? In the net. We worked our butts off all night around the net and got nothing. We just have to stay with it.''
Gionta later scored Montreal's third of the night as he jammed in a loose puck. That became the game-winning goal after Weiss pulled Florida to within one with 2:10 remaining after banging in a rebound off a Michael Frolik shot.
The Panthers took a 1-0 lead in the first period when rookie center Scott Timmins picked up his first NHL goal after knocking in a rebound off a shot from Rostislav Olesz. Timmins, 21, made his NHL debut on Tuesday against the Maple Leafs.
The Panthers have one of the top penalty kill units in the league this season and they were put to the test Wednesday. Montreal, which scored two power play goals in Sunrise on New Year's Eve, trapped the Panthers into two penalties early in the first and two (both on Dennis Wideman) late in the second.
Montreal didn't score on any of its five power play chances.
-- The Panthers may have lost rookie winger Evgeny Dadonov for an extended period of time as he broke a finger late in the first period on Wednesday. Dadonov, Florida's lone representative at All-Star Weekend, started off with two goals and six assists in his first eight games. He has no points in his past eight games.
Florida may call up a forward from its AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., to play Friday in New Jersey.
The Panthers penalty kill has helped the team stay at least within sight of a playoff spot. Florida ended last year with the 23rd-ranked penalty kill in the league; it came into Wednesday's game ranked eighth. Florida has given up just 26 goals on 166 chances this season.
One big help to the power play has been the fact that they don't have to work too hard. The Panthers came into Wednesday as the league's lowest penalized team, taking an average of eight minutes of penalties per night through the first 50 games.
-- Steve Bernier has been in DeBoer's doghouse the past few weeks. After not scoring in 20 straight games, the veteran winger was banished to the press box as DeBoer scratched him from the past three games.
Bernier was back on the ice Wednesday as the native of Quebec City was put in the lineup against the Canadiens. Bernier spent most of his time on the fourth line on Wednesday.
“Same as anyone: He dug himself that hole and he knows why he's sat for three straight games,'' DeBoer said Tuesday. “When he gets the opportunity, he needs to make the most of it. He's played some good hockey for us for a stretch early. Then his game fell off. He's not the only one. We have an extra body around right now so the desperation has to be there.''