Bobrovsky makes 21 saves, Panthers end road trip with win over Canadiens

Watch as Florida Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov intercepts a pass by Montreal Canadiens defenceman Gustav Lindstrom and streaks up the rink to snap home a breakaway goal for his seventh marker of the season.

Florida Panthers head coach Paul Maurice had a pretty simple explanation for his team’s offensive outburst in the third period.

The Panthers led 1-0 after two evenly matched periods before scoring four times in the third en route to a 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night at Bell Centre.

“We played a smart game through two periods,” said Maurice. “And then we started shooting the puck.

“That was probably the difference.”

Aleksander Barkov, Evan Rodrigues and Carter Verhaeghe each had a goal and an assist for Florida (14-7-2), which closed out its road trip through Eastern Canada with five out of six possible points. 

Sam Bennett and Oliver Ekman-Larsson also scored, and Sergei Bobrovsky made 21 saves to earn his 11th win of the season.

Not only did Maurice’s players start shooting the puck, but they also targeted one spot in particular — beating Cayden Primeau glove-side on all five goals.

“I think I did a good job all year of not second-guessing myself, but they got two in the same spot and it played in my head a little bit,” said the Canadiens netminder, who made 24 saves in his fifth appearance this season. “When you start second-guessing yourself, things can go south pretty quick.”

Johnathan Kovacevic scored the lone goal for Montreal (10-11-2), which beat the Blue Jackets 4-2 in Columbus the night before. The Canadiens have lost four straight games at home.

The Panthers went 1-for-4 on the power play while the Canadiens were 0-for-6. 

As a result, Florida improved to 26-for-26 on the penalty kill over its last six games. 

Maurice credited the returns of Aaron Ekblad, Bennett and Barkov, three players who missed time this season due to injury, for the team’s recent success.

“We put Aaron Ekblad back in your lineup, and Bennett had been out and so had been Barkov — two centremen. It changes almost everything,” he said. “Now you start to get some confidence, and your penalty kill is absolutely no different than your power play. 

“Confidence is every bit as important.”

Montreal, meanwhile, is 0-for-23 with the man-advantage in its last eight games.

The Canadiens tested the Panthers penalty kill early in the first period with a couple of power-play opportunities, but couldn’t break through as Bobrovsky made things look easy for most of the evening.

“If we get one on the power play in the first, we probably feel a little bit better about our game,” said Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki. “There were a lot of opportunities to score, it just hasn’t gone in.

“We got to find one.”

Josh Anderson, who hasn’t scored in 23 games this season, nearly had a breakaway with 1:25 remaining in the period but was taken down, drawing a penalty that might have otherwise been called a penalty shot.

He later dropped the gloves with Florida’s Jonah Gadjovich, perhaps to vent some frustration. 

Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis liked what he saw.

“Josh is back,” he said. “You saw it tonight, Josh is back. He fought angry. He’s back.”

Barkov opened the scoring at 7:07 of the second period after intercepting a pass by Gustav Lindstrom in the defensive zone, skating down the ice and firing a shot past Primeau.

The Panthers then poured it on in the third.

Off the opening draw, Bennett picked up a pass along the boards and beat Primeau clean to make it 2-0 eight seconds into the frame.

Canadiens forward Alex Newhook crashed into the side of the net 29 seconds later and awkwardly twisted his leg for a second time in the game. He needed help getting off the ice and did not return due to a lower-body injury.

The Canadiens said post-game that Newhook would be re-evaluated on Friday. Montreal is already without forward Kirby Dach for the season due to a knee injury.

Florida then got back to scoring as both Rodrigues and Verhaeghe beat Primeau with wrist shots glove-side.

“I think we went blocker a couple times, it didn’t work, so we tried the glove,” said Verhaeghe. “It worked.”

Kovacevic broke Bobrovsky’s shutout bid at 9:30 with a wrist shot and Ekman-Larsson then scored with 11 seconds left to make it 5-1 as the Panthers cruised to victory.


Florida: Hosts the New York Islanders on Saturday.

Montreal: Hosts the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.

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