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Like the game against the Bruins on the 31st of January, the Canadiens deserved better than they got.  Tonight, they were the better team and they played their best game since that match against Boston; infinitely better than they’d played during the intervening three games.


Despite outplaying the Panthers for much of the night and outshooting them 41-22, the Canadiens were beaten by a couple of goals that would never have penetrated the net on most nights.  Certainly, the first seemed like it was played on a slanted ice surface tipped severely against Florida.


At 15:03 of the first Markov intercepted a clearing attempt and threw a harmless enough looking wrist shot on goal.  Roberto Luongo, just returned from the All-Star game was presumably looking for something far more menacing because he completely whiffed on the simple shot and Montreal found itself up by one.


The Canadiens powerplay was unlucky not to have put the team up by at least two by the end of the first.  Though they did not score, they looked extremely menacing at times, and it must be said that when Saku Koivu and Mike Ribeiro are on the ice at the same time, it really opens things up for the shooters.


Early in the second, Viktor Kozlov, perennial underachiever, put on a burst of speed during one of his few spirited efforts of the year and snuck a backhand through the wickets of Jose Theodore.  From the standpoint of the Montreal netminder, it was surely a shot he’d like to have back, and one of the worst goals Montreal fans have seen in a while.


There was some controversy on the goal because the refs had blown down the play thinking Theo had smothered the puck, but before the whistle actually went, it could be seen that the puck had already slid over the goal line.  Montreal protested lightly, but were basically resigned to the call.


A mere seven seconds later on a harmless shoot-in, the puck took a while bounce off the end boards, and instead of going to the waiting Theodore behind the net, it hopped happily onto the stick of Kozlov, Johnny-on-the-Spot in front of the net.  He happily put in his second and that’s all the Panthers would need.


From then on out, it was Florida sitting back and defending their lead, relying heavily on Luongo, while Montreal kept putting on the pressure but managing nothing convincing.


By the third, a significant line change had been made when Jason Ward was put with Ribeiro and Pierre Dagenais demoted to the third line.  The move was a long time coming as the allure of Dagenais’ first games in the NHL had quickly worn off with a string of lacklustre play.


As the game came to a close, there was some very worrisome news for the Habs, as Sheldon Souray, after making a check along the boards, was unable to get up and put any weight on his left leg.  During the collision, it could be seen that he was twisted up awkwardly on that side, and after the game it was reported that it was his left knee which had borne the brunt of the impact.


It will be a tough job for Claude Julien to keep his troops on an even keel.  They played poorly before the break and won, then played a much better game and lost – circumstances which play in the minds of athletes.  Certainly, there are areas to work on – specifically in supporting each other on the ice – however, the overall performance and general dominance should give the Habs, and their fans, at least a little hope as the Canadiens head to Tampa to play the Bolts on Thursday.