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A third-period debacle on Saturday left the Habs desperate for a win on the back end of this back-to-back as they were in Sunrise to take on the Panthers. Claude Julien opted for a lineup change up front as Nicolas Deslauriers found the press box in favour of Charles Hudon. I would personally love to ask the coach why Hudon got another chance before Matthew Peca, but I also think both are better than Weise or Deslauriers so I’m clearly not thinking along the same lines as the coaching staff with the team’s fourth line. It was also a battle of the backups as Antti Niemi started the game and faced James Reimer.

The Habs came out completely flat and were not helped by Niemi who was replaced after 13 minutes. They clawed their way back in it but lacked the top-end talent to keep up as they dropped their fourth straight game, third in a row in regulation. This time, the Panthers got the win placing Montreal in a dog fight for their playoff lives from here until the end of the season.

The first minute of the game was positive as the Max Domi line forechecked and created havoc off the opening draw. Andrew Shaw was gifted a glorious scoring chance on a brutal Pysyk turnover, but Shaw panicked and shoved the puck right into Reimer’s pads and it was all downhill from there.

Four minutes into the period, Max Domi took the game’s initial penalty with a high-stick. The Florida power play took seven seconds to score as they won the draw, got the puck to Keith Yandle who fired it on net and Aleksander Barkov was present for a juicy Niemi rebound to make it 1-0.

Jordie Benn and Brett Kulak were lost on the next shift as Kulak pinched and Benn backed off despite the puck being on Benn’s side. This generated a breakaway for Evgenii Dadonov who beat Niemi but not the post. Niemi’s rough start continued when Denis Malgin inoffensively skated into the Habs zone and floated a puck toward Niemi from the blue line. The puck somehow fooled him for a 2-0 lead, an embarrassing goal for sure.

The Habs immediately fought back for their backup as Tomas Tatar picked Mike Hoffman’s pocket in the offensive zone and immediately found Domi who reduced the lead.

On the very next shift, Phillip Danault and Victor Mete lost a defensive puck battle to Barkov who found Frank Vatrano in the slot to make it 3-1 which mercifully ended Niemi’s night. Vatrano was standing in the middle of Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin, and Shea Weber, and no one even touched him, yikes!

With Price now in the net, the Habs fought back again. Gallagher picked Matheson’s pocket and raced in alone and buried a shot short side on Reimer to make things interesting.

The Panthers then lacked discipline as they took back-to-back penalties to give Montreal a 5-on-3. Their sad power play wasn’t even dangerous though, and the period ended with a 3-2 score while the Habs led the period 17-10 in shots though I’m convinced the Corsi numbers were likely favouring the Panthers.

The second started with the rest of the man advantage that was as disorganized here as it was in the first. To the Habs’ credit, they started to skate and generate momentum once it was over as Shaw, Tatar, and Mike Reilly were all stopped on good scoring chances early.

With five minutes expired, Domi skated into the zone to back up the defenders and then left the puck behind for Reilly. Reilly grabbed the puck, skated in with his head high, and found a streaking Domi who only had to tip it home to tie the game.

With the score tied, it was Montreal’s turn to get into penalty trouble. Danault was called in the offensive zone for a slash. It was a weak call, likely a makeup infraction for the second Florida penalty in the opening frame. This gave newly acquired Nate Thompson the chance to shine as he came up huge on the penalty by winning some faceoffs and clearing a few pucks.

The second half of the period saw both goaltenders finally show up as Price robbed Huberdeau on an acrobatic save before Reimer came across to stop Hudon after a nice feed from Thompson. The Reimer save woke up the Panthers who controlled the rest of the game.

Price came up with two more gigantic saves before the Panthers finally took the lead for good with just over two minutes to play in the period. Kulak coughed up the puck at the offensive blue line when all he had to do was dump it in. Mete misread the play and was already up on the other side, and this allowed Barkov to skate in alone, though Mete was hot on his trail. With Price poking at the puck and lightweight Mete on his back, Barkov sent the puck and his stick through his legs to beat Price far side. It was a clear candidate for goal of the year, and one that explains clearly why Mete should not be playing on a top pairing in the NHL. Shots on goal were 14-11 Panthers in the period.

The third period of this contest looked every bit like Saturday night as the Habs were completely ineffective and did not look like they cared too much either. A bad rebound by Price in the opening was stopped as Price came across covered for his own mistake.

The game appeared to be over on a fluke bounce as Matheson entered the zone and threw the puck to the front where it bounced off Huberdeau and Weber before skipping over Price. Luckily for the team, the play was deemed offside after Julien challenged it. This mattered little though because the Habs were not skating.

Barkov finally completed the hat trick when he broke in on a 2-on-1 that Petry actually played well and stopped the pass only to see the puck bounce off his stick and right back to Barkov. With Price sliding across toward Huberdeau due to the pass, it was an easy third goal for Barkov.

This basically ended the game; even though the Habs got a ghost penalty in their favour, their power play was horrid and created nothing before Riley Sheahan scored in an empty net to end this contest at 6-3.

HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars

1st Star – Brendan Gallagher

Gallagher was just about the only player to show up in the first period and was definitely the only one to show up on his line the entire night. Drouin and Danault were firmly asleep all night long, yet Gallagher managed to get his name on the scoresheet and get noticed. The uncontested leader of the forwards was his usual self, and on a night where most others were snoozing, he was a standout and made it frustrating to watch the others.

Stats: 1 goal, -2, 4 shots, 1 hit, 14:06 T.O.I.

2nd Star – Max Domi

The team’s top scorer scored two and they were nice goals too. I absolutely loved the shout out to Niemi after the first goal too to try and get the netminder back in the game and his teammates to buy in. I must admit that I never thought when Bergevin traded Galchenyuk for Domi that I’d be such a big Domi fan so quickly. This guy just gets it.

Stats: 2 goals, +1, 4 shots, 17:38 T.O.I.

3rd Star – Tomas Tatar

Another player that continues to surprise this season is Tatar. What I thought Marc Bergevin had acquired in Tatar is what we see out of Drouin with the inconsistent play despite the high-end talent. Instead, Tatar is a workhorse who rarely takes a shift off. Unfortunately, I can see his size becoming a factor as teams start revving up for the postseason, but I’ll take this over last year’s garbage efforts if Tatar tries this hard until the end of the year.

Stats: 2 assists, +1, 2 shots, 2 hits, 17:15 T.O.I.

Honourable Mention – Jesperi Kotkaniemi

Kotkaniemi was not effective on this night, but I’m placing his name here to make a point I’ve made before in this space about the coaching staff and what drives me absolutely nuts watching them this season. For the most part, Phillip Danault has been excellent all season long. On Sunday, he wasn’t. The whole team was out of sorts, and at some point, the coaching staff must try something to spark the team. Kotkaniemi had an awesome shift in the first playing with Drouin and Gallagher. Kotkaniemi is being groomed to be the top line centre in the not too distant future. So, if your guy that’s keeping the seat warm is having a bad game, and the kid had a good shift with the line in question, and the way your team is playing, you’ve really got nothing to lose so why keep things as they are? The worse that will come from the scenario is that Kotkaniemi will get lit up by Barkov even more and will get a big-time lesson in where he’s trying to get to. Check that, the worst that could happen is that the move works, sparks a comeback and then every fan will want the kid there full-time? More than likely those scenarios don’t happen, and the kid gets a game of increased ice-time and learns what it’s like to play against top-tier talent in the league in a game that the team clearly wasn’t going to win anyways. I’m not talking about trying this to start the second period. After the fifth Florida goal, for the last 10 minutes of the game, something should have been tried to spark the offence.

Stats: 0 points, -1, 1 shot, 2 hits, 14:16 T.O.I.