MONTREAL — For the first time this season the Florida Panthers were held off the scoreboard.
Carey Price and Montreal kept Florida’s league-best offence from scoring in a 4-0 victory on Saturday afternoon in the first of back-to-back matinee games for the Canadiens.
The Panthers were riding a six-game winning streak during which they scored at least four goals in each victory.
“They’re one of the best goal-scoring teams in the NHL,” said Claude Julien, who coached his 400th game with the Canadiens. “We’ve been saying all week how we need to be better defensively if we want to win games. We did that this afternoon.”
Price made 29 saves for his third shutout of the season for Montreal, which has won six of its last eight. Price outduelled Sergei Bobrovsky in the battle of the NHL's two highest-paid goaltenders.
Nick Suzuki, Artturi Lehkonen, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher found the back of the net. Jeff Petry assisted on all four goals for the first four-point game of his career.
“We had to play a strong defensive game for what they have on that side,” said Petry, who has 26 helpers this year. “Our game plan was to chip pucks in. Teams are prone to turnovers when you’re putting the puck behind them and pressuring them.”
The break was not beneficial for the Panthers (28-17-5), who were playing their first game since Jan. 21. The Canadiens (24-22-7) had a jump in their step and Florida simply could not keep up.
Suzuki scored the opener at 5:25 of the first on a 2-on-1, short side on Bobrovsky, thanks to a slick one-touch pass from Joel Armia at the blue line.
The visitors struggled to clear bodies out of their crease for most of the game and it cost them in the second.
On missed coverage by Florida, Lehkonen made it 2-0 by redirecting Petry's shot between Bobrovsky's pads at 6:01 for his 12th of the season.
Tatar added to Montreal's lead at 13:35 on a pass from Phillip Danault behind the net. Four Panthers players surrounded Tatar in the crease, but the winger still managed to get his stick on the puck, roofing it for his team-leading 19th goal.
“We felt going into the game that whoever was better in front of our net or their net was going to have the best success,” said coach Joel Quenneville. “Clearly they were the more determined group in that area.”
Added Bobrovsky, who stopped 31-of-35 shots: “We gave up a lot on the inside. We have to find a way to protect the house better.”
Top-line centre Aleksander Barkov left the game in the second period after taking a hit from Shea Weber along the end boards. The Florida captain did not return.
Gallagher made sure Montreal came away with the victory by deflecting Petry's shot up and over Bobrovsky, on the power play, at 10:46 of the third.
Price did his part to shut down the league's top-ranked offence. His best stop came on Jonathan Huberdeau with the blocker on a breakaway in the first. He also made a string of saves on a Florida two-man advantage in the third.
With the 47th shutout of his career, Price passed Ken Dryden for third most shutouts in franchise history.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Price, who is 6-1-0 in his last seven starts. “It’s special for me because I had a conversation with Ken during my third season in the league when things weren’t going that well and he helped me through it. Very grateful for that.”
The Canadiens are now six points behind the Panthers in a race for playoff hockey. Florida has three games in hand.
Notes: Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman saw their point streaks come to an end. … Montreal sent Jesperi Kotkaniemi down to the AHL's Laval Rocket.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2020.
Kelsey Patterson, The Canadian Press