Canadiens-Panthers Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 10, 2013
Impressive play on the road has the Montreal Canadiens atop the Eastern Conference. A bizarre losing streak is partly responsible for the Florida Panthers residing in the East's basement. The Canadiens look to cap their five-game road trip with a fourth victory Sunday night when they try to sweep the season series from the Panthers for the first time. Montreal (16-5-4) leads the East by two points on Pittsburgh thanks in part to an 8-2-2 road record, which includes going 3-1-0 heading into the finale of this trip. The Canadiens kept their momentum in dramatic fashion Saturday, scoring three unanswered goals in the third period to beat Tampa Bay 4-3. "That's what good teams do," said rookie right wing Brendan Gallagher, who scored the eventual winner midway through the third. "You get behind, but you're confident in yourself to come back in games. We get down by two and we feel like we have a chance to come back. But with that said, you have to do the right thing and play the same way every night." Montreal needed dramatics to win its last road meeting with the Panthers (7-12-6) on Feb. 14, when Rene Bourque scored in overtime to cinch a 1-0 victory. The team also won 4-1 at home on Jan 22, and a victory Sunday would give the Canadiens their first season sweep of Florida after dropping all four matchups in 2011-12. This time, the Canadiens will have Michael Ryder in the lineup, and he has six assists in six games since being acquired in a trade with Dallas last month. The right wing - in his second stint with Montreal - had two assists Saturday, with both contributing to the third-period rally. Tomas Plekanec found the net against the Lightning, giving him three goals on this trip. The center's lone tally in his last seven meetings with the Panthers, though, came Jan. 22. The Panthers have dropped five of six (1-3-2), and are 1-0-6 in games decided after regulation - losing five straight at home. Florida was unable to put an end to that rough streak Friday, giving up a goal with 40.5 seconds left in overtime to fall 3-2 to visiting Winnipeg. "Overtime has been a real Achilles' heel for us," coach Kevin Dineen said. "You lose five games at home in overtime, that's disappointing for our players and for our fan base." Perhaps more disappointing is the Panthers occupying last place in the Eastern Conference after winning their first division title in 2011-12, ending a 10-season playoff drought. Jonathan Huberdeau, however, is giving Florida hope for the future. The third overall selection in the 2011 draft leads the Panthers and all rookies with 12 goals, netting four in the past four games. The center, though, has come up empty on five shots on goal against Montreal this season. Shawn Matthias is providing some unexpected scoring punch, getting three of his six goals in the past five games while finding the net Friday.
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