SUNRISE, Fla. — Sergei Bobrovsky allowed three goals on the first three shots he faced and still came out the winning goaltender of this pivotal game between his Florida Panthers and the Montreal Canadiens.
That he somehow outshined both Samuel Montembeault and Jake Allen, who each ended up pulled from the Canadiens’ net, was just one of the odd things that happened at FLA Live Arena on Thursday.
Both teams combining for an NHL record-tying 10 goals in the first period — Florida led 7-3, matching Montreal’s franchise record for most goals allowed in a period) made this game feel like it was being played in another realm. There was some science fiction stuff with one of the goals coming for the Panthers after the officials had blown the play dead.
Nick Suzuki, who had eight minor penalties coming into the game, being ejected for a crosscheck? You can scratch that one off the bizarro bingo card.
And to see it all end 9-5 in favour of the Panthers, with only one measly goal scored over the final 32 minutes of the game, reinforced how weird it was.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in 25 years. Ever.” said Panthers head coach Paul Maurice. “That many goals —there were more goals than chances to score, and that’s a rarity. All I can say is it completely affected the rest of the game, I think for both teams. And I’m not sure there’s anything necessarily usable of the video to the game of hockey. Yup, that’s how I felt.”
The Canadiens felt miserable afterwards.
In a season in which results have been secondary to development and largely unimportant in the grand scheme of things, this was one of the games they actually had to win given that they hold Florida’s unprotected first-round pick and would benefit greatly from the Panthers missing the playoffs.
Not that Canadiens players were focused on that before the game.
They wanted to win regardless, but were completely out of sorts in this one. They’ve put in desperate efforts on most nights, but they were anything but desperate against the Panthers.
And Montreal’s goaltenders, whom Suzuki said have been their best and most consistent players all season, couldn’t stop the bleeding until it was too late.
“We had a great first shift,” said Suzuki about the sequence that saw Mike Matheson open the scoring for the Canadiens.
“And then things kind of went a little sideways from there,” he continued. “I think our three goals didn’t really show the way we were playing. We were playing really bad. It showed on their side, and we gave up way too many chances the whole game. Against a team like that, with the offensive players they have, they’re going to score and I felt like we were playing like shinny hockey in the summer and they were playing to make a playoff spot. So it’s pretty unacceptable from us.”
It was downright ugly.
That’s what it’s been in three games the Canadiens have played against the Panthers to date.
They’ve been three games they’ve had the most incentive to win, and they’ve lost all three by a combined score of 22-9.
Montembeault was pulled after allowing three goals on six shots. Allen then allowed four on 13, and another two on five in the second period before Montembeault went back in and stopped all 18 shots he faced through the end of the game.
Both were spared by Canadiens public relations staff from having to talk about it afterwards.
“We definitely let them down,” said Suzuki. “Can’t be giving those chances up. I feel like the last few games we’ve been playing poorly defensively and we need to step it up for them. Definitely not their fault tonight.”
Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis also refused to pin it on either goalie, saying, “Defensively, it was like we forgot all of our concepts.”
Much to the delight of the Panthers, who pulled to within three points of a playoff spot with two games in hand on the second-wild-card-holding New York Islanders.
They don’t care how they win them, so long as they win them.
“It’s for both teams, it’s almost Twilight Zone,” said Maurice.
“I’ve got nothing to say is what I’m telling you,” he added. “Anything that comes out of my mouth is me making stuff up because I’m still not sure what I saw.”
Rem Pitlick, who scored the only goal in the second half of the game to give Montreal five on the night, called it one of the weirdest ones he’s ever been a part of.
Aaron Ekblad, who scored two for the Panthers, referred to it as something out the hit Netflix series Stranger Things.
It left St. Louis scratching his head and, thankfully, didn’t leave Maurice at a loss for words, even if he wasn’t sure how to describe what he saw.
“There’s very few times I come out here and I don’t know what I’m going to say,” Maurice said. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. There wasn’t a guy behind our bench, and I guarantee you there wasn’t a guy behind their bench, who’d seen anything like that. So we’ll just leave it with this, we really needed to win that game, we put up nine, we won the game and we got out of it healthy.”
He ended his availability requesting that it not be discussed again on Friday.
We’re fairly certain the Canadiens would never like to revisit it again, either.
“We know that can’t happen. That’s not who we’ve been all year, and I think just our game’s kind of been slipping lately,” said Suzuki. “Even if we had a pretty big win in Pittsburgh (Tuesday), we kind of got dominated for most the game. So there’s a lot of areas we need to clean up, and we’ve gotta finish out the season. It’s not over, we’ve got a lot of games left.”
The Canadiens will play their 70th in Tampa Bay on Saturday before returning to Montreal for the first of their final 11 games of the season.