Hidden Game: Canadiens top Panthers in old-school rough contest

Teams combined for eight goals and 66 penalty minutes, but Montreal earned the 5-3 win behind two markers from Nick Suzuki.

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We’re not sure if it’s the cold weather or the foreign country, but something strange happens to the Florida Panthers once they cross the border.

On this trip alone, the Panthers trailed Toronto 5-1 after two periods on Monday and, although the visitors mounted a comeback with three straight goals, ultimately lost 6-4 to the Maple Leafs — a team they could meet in the opening round of the playoffs.

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On Tuesday night at the Bell Centre, it was another defeat, this time 5-3 to the Canadiens — whose players will be playing golf in about three weeks. Florida squandered a 2-1 lead in the game.

While playing in Canada this season, the Panthers now have a 3-5-1 record. Florida reached the Stanley Cup final last season and has similar aspirations this year.

On the other hand: The Panthers were missing Matthew Tkachuk, out with an illness, and Carter Verhaeghe, who was injured against the Leafs. That’s a total of 56 goals out of their lineup.

News you need (Part I): Goaltender Anthony Stolarz, who got the start for the visitors, was the best road netminder in the NHL this season going into this game, with a .939 save percentage. His save percentage on this night was .872.

News you need (Part II): The last time the Canadiens defeated Florida, Carey Price was their goalie.

He likes playing the Canadiens: Florida captain Aleksander Barkov, who scored his team’s second goal, now has 25 goals and 47 points in 35 games against Montreal.

How is that a penalty?: In the game’s second minute, Canadiens defenceman David Savard was on his knees. Evan Rodrigues literally fell over him. Savard was assessed a tripping minor.

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Best dive outside of the pool: In the game’s eighth minute, Savard slid and broke up a play in the neutral zone.

How not to backcheck: Josh Anderson basically allowed Anton Lundell an unimpeded path to the net on the Panthers’ opening goal, at 9:16 of the first period.

Momentum, schmomentum: Only 56 seconds later, Joel Armia tied the score.

Play Pezzetta: Yes, that was a rebound off Michael Pezzetta’s shot on which Armia scored.

News you need (Part III): That was Armia’s 11th goal this season while playing five-on-five. That puts him second on the team, behind Nick Suzuki. Armia also has one more goal under that scenario than does Cole Caufield despite significant less playing time.

Pass of the night: Vladimir Tarasenko to Barkov on the Panthers’ second goal. It was a cross-ice gem, after which Barkov went around defenceman Kaiden Guhle and then deked goalie Samuel Montembeault.

Best bear hug outside a WWE ring: Late in the opening period, Aaron Ekblad on Juraj Slafkovsky. Both players received roughing minors.

Operator, we have a bad connection: Brendan Gallagher thought he had scored from a goalmouth scramble early in the second period. The play was reviewed, meaning the final decision was made by league officials in Toronto. Initially, referee Eric Furlatt announced a goal, signifying the puck had crossed the goal line. Seconds later, however, he reversed that call.

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He must be colour-blind: Dmitry Kulikov passed directly to Suzuki, who beat Stolarz from the slot at 5:58 of the second period, tying the score 2-2.

Milestones: Suzuki, who added a second goal on the power play at 12:24 of the second period, now has 32 goals and 71 points in 74 games. It’s the captain’s first 70-point season of his career and he becomes the first Canadiens player in five seasons to reach that total. It also was the 67th career multi-point game, placing him sixth overall in franchise history. In case you’re wondering, Guy Lafleur leads, with 119, followed by Stéphane Richer (91).

Old-time hockey: The teams combined for 66 minutes in penalties, including 40 against the visitors. Most of that total was incurred in the third period, including 10-minute misconducts against Brandon Montour, Nick Cousins and Gallagher.

Hit of the night: Slafkovsky and Arber Xhekaj made a Florida pancake out of Steven Lorentz in the third period.

Next time, decline the penalty: Not only did the Panthers fail to convert five power plays, they allowed a short-handed goal by Jake Evans in the third period. The Canadiens weren’t much better, going 1-for-7.

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News you need (Part IV): Barkov won 14 of 19 faceoffs — the majority against Suzuki, who lost 13 of 18. Colin White, meanwhile, lost seven of eight and still is seeking his first point as a Canadien after being claimed off waivers from Pittsburgh 14 games ago. But who’s counting?

They said it: “Emotions were up and down,” Evans said. “We thought we had scored a goal, didn’t, stuck with it. Just a really good team win.”

“I think I like a physical game like that,” said Slafkovsky, who took three minor penalties. “Didn’t it look like it? I’m trying to keep up with Arber’s minor penalties. I saw Arber was coming and I was already going there. I wasn’t in the middle, so it was good. I enjoy all the scrums and stuff. It’s part of hockey. It brings the energy level a little higher.”

“It feels good,” said Montembeault, who made 37 stops for a .925 save percentage. “That’s the team that drafted me and I haven’t had that much success before playing against them the last two years. The team gave me five goals, too.”

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