MONTREAL – Brian Gionta scored two goals and Montreal beat Florida 4-1 on Thursday night, but even in the Canadiens room after the game the mood was subdued due to what may have been another head injury to Panthers forward David Booth.
A wobbly Booth was taken to hospital after a check early in the second period at the Montreal blue-line by defenceman Jaroslav Spacek and, while a Panthers official said he appeared to be OK, it was a scary moment for a player who already missed 45 games this season with a serious concussion.
“The good news is that he was alert and coherent,” Panthers general manager Randy Sexton said. “David is at the hospital.
“They’re taking tests, so we won’t have any other comment until we get all the results back.”
Benoit Pouliot and Tomas Plekanec also scored for Montreal (37-30-8) which moved to within one point of fifth place Ottawa in the NHL Eastern Conference, although the Senators hold a game in hand. Radek Dvorak scored for Florida (30-32-11), which remained seven points behind eighth place Boston with nine games left to play.
Booth, trying to control the puck, crossed the blue-line with his head down and was met head-on by Spacek’s shoulder at 1:10 of the second period. He lay on the ice for a few minutes, bleeding from a cut to his face, and had trouble getting to his feet before he was helped off by the trainers and then taken to hospital.
The hit occurred on the day the NHL’s new rule went into effect adding extra sanctions for blindside or lateral hits to the head, although this one appeared to be head-on. No penalty was called on the play.
“I only saw one replay,” said Sexton. “It looked like a clean hit, but I reserve judgement until I get a chance to watch it.”
Spacek said he wasn’t looking to injure the high-scoring Panthers’ forward.
“I tried to step up at the blue-line, he was kind of low and when he turned, I was right there,” said Spacek. “I’m not a dirty player. It just happened.”
“It was body on body. It’s too bad. You never want to see that.”
The Panthers were to stay overnight in Montreal and then head to Ottawa to complete a three-game road trip on Saturday. Sexton did not know if Booth would be kept overnight at Montreal General Hospital.
It was a blindside hit on Booth by Philadelphia’s Mike Richards on Oct. 24 that ignited a season-long debate over head shots and was part of what led the league and the NHL Players Association to stiffen the penalties.
The concussion put Booth out for more than three months and caused the Detroit native to miss a chance to play for the United States at the 2010 Olympics.
The 25-year-old, who scored 31 goals last season, returned on Jan. 30 and looked to be finding his range again with four goals in his previous four games, including two in a 4-1 win in Toronto on Tuesday night.
The Panthers caused Montreal some anxious moments for other reasons.
The Canadiens were coming off a 3-2 shootout loss in Buffalo on Wednesday night in which they blew a 2-0 lead in the final two minutes of regulation.
They led 2-0 again when Dvorak got behind defenceman Hal Gill and tipped a Keith Ballard feed past Jaroslav Halak with 3:36 left to play to set up a nervy ending.
But with Tomas Vokoun pulled for an extra attacker, Plekanec ended the threat with an empty-net goal with 1:24 left to play and Gionta added another empty-netter with eight seconds left.
“That’s part of the learning curve – we had to learn from what happened (in Buffalo),” said Gionta.
Vokoun, who faced 29 shots, was back in the Florida net after resting two games but was not sharp on either of Montreal’s first two goals.
Pouliot took a puck from Dvorak in the slot and shovelled a backhander past Vokoun on Montreal’s second shot 12:40 into the game.
Gionta scored on a long shot on a rush down the right wing at 16:38.
Halak, who made 23 saves, set the tone when he stopped Nathan Horton in alone in the fourth minute and made a fine pad stop on Rostislav Olesz in the crease in the second frame.
Notes: Montreal winger Travis Moen, cut on the forehead for 50 stitches Monday against Ottawa, returned to the lineup wearing a visor after missing one game. . . Maxim Lapierre also returned after being made a healthy scratch. Glen Metropolit and Mathieu Darche sat out. . . Plekanec’s goal was the 100th of his career. . . Florida’s Gregory Campbell remains sideline with a fractured left foot.