The Panthers didn’t quite send their farm team to Montreal, but they certainly did rest a number of their key players on Friday night, including Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov — and, most significantly, “The Bob”, Sergei Bobrovsky. Instead, they gave the start to Jonas Johansson, who had had only a single start since Florida claimed him on waivers from Colorado.
The Canadiens, though, were determined to end the season on a high note, and that they did, scoring ten goals past the hapless Johansson, who was also often let down by his defencemen. At 10-2, it was the Habs’ most spectacular scoring effort of the season, and it was impressive even if Florida was resting a number of players in advance of the playoffs.
The First Explosion
The Panthers looked to press early, but Carey Price — getting tested, not rested, by the Canadiens — was there to make the early saves.
But when the Habs put together their first serious attack, less than two minutes into the game, it was a Jordan Harris slapshot that was the first one that found its way to the net and to Johansson — and behind Johansson, on the Habs’ first shot of the game. It was also Harris’s first NHL goal, and Montreal had the early lead at 1:57.
Eetu Luostarinen won the faceoff after that goal, and broke into the Habs’ zone on the left side. He had a chance to tip it into the Canadiens’ net, but Price was ready and foiled any such thoughts of scoring.
It took only a minute and a half for the Habs to get a second shot on goal — and to score a second goal. This time it was a David Savard slapshot from the point that hit a goalpost. The puck bounced off Johansson, and ended up in the crease next to him. Mike Hoffman was there in a jiffy and potted his 15th of the season by flipping the puck into the empty net.
Nick Suzuki won the ensuing faceoff, and it was Jeff Petry to Joel Edmundson, and then Edmundson found Caufield skating at high speed along the right-side boards. Caufield snapped his trademark wrist shot from the faceoff circle, past Matt Kiersted, and Johanssen had now given up three goals on three shots. 3-0 Montreal after just four minutes and thirty seconds.
Brandon Montour was called for slashing at 10:29, and, for a change, Montreal’s power play actually had some power in its play. Brendan Gallagher took a pass from Matthieu Perreault in the right faceoff circle, as the final seconds of the penalty were ticking away, and snapped the puck past Johanssen for a four-goal lead at 12:23.
The Panthers got their own man advantage opportunity at 16:26, as Tyler Pitlick interfered with former Habs fan favourite, Ben Chiarot. And, with just three seconds remaining in the penalty, it was Chiarot that finally put the puck in the Montreal net, receiving a pass from Luostarinen as the Panthers were breaking in, and shooting it past Price at 18:23.
The Habs outshot Florida by just 11-10 in the period, and the high-danger scoring chances were tied at four apiece, but the scoreboard was merciless on the visitors with the numbers at four and zero.
Could We Have Some Seconds, Please?
After that explosive start, and with the shaky Johansson still in net for Florida, the fans were expecting more fireworks, and that they did get.
Little more than a minute into the period, Noel Acciari gave the puck away to Caufield in the neutral zone, and the speedy winger wasted no time getting into a scoring position on the left side, and backhanded the puck into the net behind Johansson for a 5-1 advantage.
Some two minutes later, with the Habs moving into the Panthers’ zone, it was Christian Dvorak dropping the pass back to Perreault, whose slap shot beat Johansson — again — for what was now a 6-1 lead.
And then, at 6:08, it was Jake Evans tapping the puck into an empty side of the net, from a tidy pass by Rem Pitlick, who had in turn been set up by Gallagher. 7-1, and it was not even halfway through the game yet.
Dvorak capped the secondary explosion by scoring at 13:21, tapping in a rebound from a Josh Anderson shot. At this point, one might start feeling sorry for Johansson, but the Florida coaches were apparently determined to leave him to hang out to dry.
The shot clock was even at 16 each, but the Canadiens ruled the high-danger scoring chances by a 7-4 count in the second.
The 82nd Third Period of the Year
Victory was not really in question any more in the third period, and it was a meaningless game for the Panthers in any case, so the intensity level was dropping further.
Four minutes in, though, Chiarot had another chance, with a wrist shot from in front of the net, but Price gloved that one, too.
And just before the eight-minute mark, Anderson broke in on the left side, but he could not get away from Chiarot to get a scoring chance.
But lest one think that Chiarot was faultless for Florida, there was the front-of-the-net pass from Hoffman that he intercepted. Not into the net, no, but it got loose nevertheless, and Caufield was quicker to get to it, flipping it past Johansson on the stick side to take the game to 9-1. It was Caufield’s first NHL hat trick, and there were plenty of hats and caps to be collected off the Bell Centre ice surface.
And, to cap things off, Michael Pezzetta got the puck to Tyler Pitlick off an offensive-zone faceoff, and Pitlick found yet another opening in Johansson’s defences for his first goal of the season. 10-1 Habs; when did one last see such a score?
The Panthers made it ever-so-slightly prettier, though, as Chiarot’s shot trickled through Price’s pads, and Acciari tapped it at 14:55 for a final score of 10-2 Montreal.
Chiarot skated in on another break on the left side about 90 seconds later, but Price gloved it easily. That was Chiarot’s eighth shot of the night, highest on the Panthers, and only beaten by Caufield’s nine.
In the final period, with the game clearly over, the Habs outshot their opposition 16-8, but the high-danger scoring chances were 4-7 in favour of the Panthers.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Cole Caufield (3g, 0a, 9 shots, +4, 15:16 TOI) was everywhere, slipping away from Florida defenders to look for scoring opportunities. The hat trick took him to second place in rookie scoring, in spite of the very few goals that he scored under former coach Dominique Ducharme.
Second Star: Brendan Gallagher (1g, 1a, 3 shots, +2, 15:45 TOI) has been finding something closer to his old form, and he is shooting more. The goal he scored tonight exemplifies what he is capable of if he looks for those chances.
Third Star: Carey Price (39 shots, 37 saves, .949 save percentage) was solid in one of the best performances in his very short season, making pretty saves and taking away scoring chances with good positioning.
Honourable Mention: Jordan Harris (1g, 0a, 1 shot, +2, 17:35 TOI) scored the first goal (of surely many) in his young NHL career while playing nearly 18 minutes of solid, mature hockey. He is more ready for a regular NHL role than one has any right to expect at this stage of his career.