SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) – Tomas Tatar never thought his game was off track, and he showed that for the Canadiens in their first game after the holiday break.
Tatar scored twice, including the go-ahead goal in the third period, and the Canadiens beat the Florida Panthers 5-3 on Friday night.
The left wing scored on a turnover in the first minute and broke a 2-2 tie with a shot that beat goalie Roberto Luongo on the near post in the third period. Tatar had been on a six-game point drought over a nine-day period this month.
“I never really thought (my play) was out. We were winning. It’s a team effort every night and it doesn’t really matter who’s going to score, who’s going to produce the most,” Tatar said.
Jonathan Drouin had a goal and an assist, and Nicolas Deslauriers and Artturi Lehkonen also scored for the Canadiens, who won their third straight.
Henrik Borgstrom, Denis Malgin and Keith Yandle scored for the Panthers, who ended a two-game winning streak, and Mike Hoffman had two assists.
Montreal’s Antti Niemi, in for injured Carey Price, and Luongo each stopped 23 shots.
“I thought the second and third period (Niemi) played well,” said Claude Julien of Niemi, who gave up seven goals in his last appearance on Dec. 11. “I like the way he reacted (in those periods). The first period maybe a little rusty, but we didn’t help him with the chances we gave them on those goals.
“Give him credit for the way he handled himself from the second period on.”
Montreal scored twice in the first three minutes. Tatar capitalized on a turnover by defenseman Mike Matheson behind Florida’s net to backhand in his 13th goal just 35 seconds in, and Victor Mete’s long shot struck Deslauriers and flew by Luongo for his second goal at 2:51
The lackluster play has not been characteristic of Florida, which had won four of five.
“I’d like to say it was a bad team start, but I think a couple of individuals started bad and that (messed up) the rest of us,” Florida coach Bob Boughner said. “We didn’t have a chance to get our third and fourth lines on the ice before it was 2-0.”
Florida bounced back with two goals in the frenzied period.
Borgstrom took a feed from Mike Hoffman and buried his second goal from the slot at 8:01, and Malgin swatted in his fourth goal at 13:53 after Niemi’s paddle save bounced off Paul Byron and went back toward the goal and Malgin in the low slot.
After the pace slowed in a scoreless second period, Tatar scored again at 8:54 on a one-timer, just five seconds after Florida got one player back from a 5-on-3 penalty kill.
Lehkonen scored at 15:40 for a two-goal edge, and Yandle scored his sixth goal on the power play with 1:16 remaining.
Following Yandle’s goal, Florida pulled Luongo and had a couple of great chances in tight on Niemi to tie the contest in the last minute, but Drouin scored his 12th goal into an empty net at 19:37 to seal the win.
Boughner said his Panthers, who will play at home against Philadelphia, must get better production out of their top line, which produced just two shots and one Aleksander Barkov assist.
NOTES: Montreal placed Price (lower body) on the injured reserve list Thursday, retroactive to Dec. 22, and said the former Vezina Trophy winner would miss the final three contests on the road trip. The club called up Michael McNiven from the AHL’s Laval Rocket on an emergency basis. … Among Florida’s scratches was F Nick Bjugstad (upper-body), who missed his ninth consecutive game. The Minnesota native was close to returning at the end of the four-game trip before the holiday break but was held out. … The game was the first of four meetings between the teams.
Canadiens: Visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.
Panthers: Host the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.
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