SUNRISE, Fla. – The Canadiens’ success on a long road trip will not mean much if they don’t make the most of their games back in Montreal, too.
Marc-Andre Bergeron and Benoit Pouliot scored in the first 4 1/2 minutes of the third period and Montreal beat the Florida Panthers 5-4 on Thursday night.
The Canadiens, who haven’t played at home since Dec. 17, won six of seven on their trip to improve to 11-10-1 away from Montreal, compared to just 9-9-2 at the Bell Centre.
“That’s awesome,” Pouliot said. “Now we have to do the same thing at home.”
Bergeron scored during Montreal’s 5-on-3 power play to give the Canadiens a 4-3 lead 1:52 into the third. Pouliot stretched the advantage to two goals 2:37 later in front of the Panthers’ first home sellout crowd of the season.
Radek Dvorak cut Florida’s deficit to 5-4 at 6:03, but the Panthers couldn’t overcome two consecutive penalties for delay of game.
Nathan Horton was whistled for shooting the puck over the glass at the end of the second period, and Jordan Leopold was called for the same infraction 13 seconds into the third. That gave Montreal a two-man advantage and set up the go-ahead goal.
“It was suicide,” Florida coach Peter DeBoer said. “We put ourselves in that position and we paid for it. You can’t shoot yourself in the foot like that and win too many games.”
Andrei Markov added three assists for Montreal, which trailed 2-1 after the first period but went ahead 3-2 in the second. Michael Frolik got the Panthers even heading into the third.
“We finished the year on a good note and now we have to keep it going,” Markov said.
Florida’s Tomas Vokoun made 37 saves in the loss. Jaroslav Halak stopped 32 shots for Montreal.
Frolik forced the third tie at 12:08 of the second period when his wrist shot got past Halak to cap an odd-man rush. It was Frolik’s 12th goal.
“The effort was there, but we don’t have anything to show for it,” Frolik said. “We came away empty.”
After being outplayed through much of the first period, Montreal scored twice in the first 5:20 of the second to take the lead.
“A tremendous hockey game,” Montreal coach Jacques Martin said. “We battled hard and they battled hard. It could have gone either way.”
Michael Cammalleri, who leads the Canadiens with 20 goals, tied it 2-2 with a shot from inside the right circle that beat Vokoun to the short side on a power play.
Just over two minutes later, Tomas Plekanec took advantage of Vokoun being on one knee and scored his 10th goal to give Montreal its first lead.
Keith Ballard put Florida ahead 1-0 lead when he took a perfect feed from Vokoun on the left side and, after putting a spin move on defenceman Josh Gorges, scored a power-play goal 9:19 into the game.
“In the end, it was them converting their opportunities and we were left empty handed,” Ballard said. “We had plenty of scoring chances, but they made the most of theirs. That was the difference.”
Montreal got even 1-1 at 11:33 when Hal Gill fired a one-timer from the top of the circle that beat Vokoun high to the glove side.
Florida went ahead again less than four minutes later when Nathan Horton scored on a breakaway off a pass up ice from Stephen Weiss. Horton raced in untouched from the red line and beat Halak on a backhander with 4:52 left in the period.
Horton also assisted on Frolik’s goal, giving him 28 points in the last 25 games. He has 10 goals in that span.
Notes: Martin returned for the first time since he was the Panthers’ general manager in the 2007-08 season. … Vokoun’s assist on Ballard’s goal was the goalie’s first since Oct. 10 against New Jersey. … Montreal went 0-6-1 on its previous seven-game road trip from Dec. 23, 2002, to Jan. 7, 2003.