MONTREAL – Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec are giving the Montreal Canadiens some offensive momentum entering the second half of the season.
Gionta and Plekanec scored third-period goals as the Canadiens beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 Wednesday night.
“Things are bouncing the right way for sure but ultimately it’s the overall play of the team and we need to keep this momentum and keep doing the right things,” said Gionta, who also had a pair of goals in Montreal’s 3-2 shootout win over Washington on Tuesday.
Plekanec gave Montreal a 2-1 lead just over five minutes into the third period. After streaking in, Plekanec fired a shot that bounced off Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun and found its way to the back of the net.
“It wasn’t an up and down game, it was kind of chippy,” said Plekanec. “You got to stay patient and not get frustrated.”
Gionta put the game away by picking up a Max Pacioretty rebound and banking it in off Vokoun.
Jeff Halpern also scored for the Canadiens while Scott Timmins and Stephen Weiss answered for Florida.
Alex Auld made 33 saves for Montreal (29-18-5) and is now 4-2 on the season in eight games as the Canadiens’ backup.
“We were pretty good in all areas tonight and that’s pretty important,” said Auld. “We stuck with it and that’s been a good trademark of ours, we might get down but we don’t change our game plan, just stayed with it and we picked up the points.”
At the other end, Vokoun stopped 38 shots.
“It’s tough, we just couldn’t get that second goal and the game is decided by one goal. That’s just what happens,” said Vokoun. “Sometimes the puck just goes in.”
Florida (22-23-6) opened the scoring at 7:30 of the first period when Rostislav Olesz picked up a rebound and sent a back-hand pass to Timmins, who scored his first-career NHL goal.
“It’s nice to get it out of the way in one of these early games, to get the monkey off my back and so I don’t have to think about it,” said Timmins. “You don’t know when it’s going to come so hopefully it’s just the beginning of a couple more.”
The Canadiens evened things up at 4:50 of the second. P.K. Subban threw a back-hand pass towards the goal and it was re-directed past Vokoun by Halpern.
After Plekanec and Gionta scored, Weiss added a late goal for Florida after finishing off a pass across the crease from Michael Frolik.
The power play continued to struggle for Montreal. They were 0-for-5 in the game and haven’t scored on their last 21 chances.
The Canadiens, who have won five of their last seven games at the Bell Centre, are 17-6-4 at home this season.
“We need to keep going because it’s going to be a battle right to the end,” said Plekanec. “The playoff races are always really tight right until the end and I’m sure all the teams on the edge are going to fight and it’s not going to be easy.”
Montreal will host the New York Rangers on Saturday and the New Jersey Devils on Sunday.
Florida has lost seven of their last eight and are seven points out of a playoff spot.
“I think the whole season is desperate for us, we’ve been there in every game except a handful and we got a find a way to get over the hump and win some games,” said David Booth.
The Panthers’ next opponent is the Devils in New Jersey on Friday night.
Notes: Alexandre Picard was a healthy scratch and Mike Cammalleri missed his fifth straight game with a shoulder injury for Montreal … The Panthers were without the services of Shawn Matthias and Bryan McCabe who both missed Wednesday’s game with injuries. Darcy Hordichuk was a healthy scratch for Florida.