By Bill Whitehead
The Montreal Canadiens finally solved the Florida Panthers in the teams’ third meeting as Atlantic Division rivals.
Goaltender Carey Price thwarted a third-period rally by the Panthers, and Brian Gionta scored the game-winning goal in the second period as Montreal defeated Florida 2-1 at the Bell Centre.
After Florida mustered just 11 shots in the first period, Price (20-11-4) fought off all 16 shots by the Panthers in a frantic third period.
Ed Jovanovski turned over the puck behind goaltender Tim Thomas, and Tomas Plekanec fed a pass to Gionta for a goal at 15:46 of the second period and a 2-1 Montreal lead, marking the first time Montreal (25-14-5) had scored more than one goal in a game against the Panthers (16-21-6).
Montreal’s David Desharnais took a pass from Max Pacioretty, missed the puck initially then spun and sent a backhander beyond Thomas’s glove on the Canadiens’ first shot on goal at 6:23 of the first period. The marker was the sixth for Desharnais, with Brendan Gallagher recording the secondary assist.
Florida’s B line – Sean Bergenheim, Aleksander Barkov and Brad Boyes – stayed hot to tie the game at 1-1. Bergenheim scored his 10th goal after picking off a pass from Barkov in front of Price and beating the Montreal netminder at 17:09 – ending a stretch in which Florida didn’t have a shot for 10 minutes after holding a 3-0 edge in shots to open the contest.
Bergenheim’s goal was his eighth in his last 12 games. Barkov’s assist extended his team-best point streak to six games, the best by a Cats rookie since Kristian Huselius in 2001.
Montreal had a shorthanded goal waved off in the opening seconds of the second because of interfering with Thomas, though no penalty was called on the play. Thomas made a sprawling save of a shot by Douglas Murray that rebounded off the end boards and was tipped by Rene Bourque six minutes later.
Thomas (10-11-2) made 33 saves in the losing effort.
Florida plays at Buffalo on Thursday in the second game of their three-game road swing.