MONTREAL – It’s scoreboard-watching season in the NHL, and Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen admits he is an avid participant.
He liked what he saw on Tuesday night. Not only did his team post a comeback 3-2 victory in a shootout over the Montreal Canadiens, but the rival Washington Capitals were beaten 5-1 in Buffalo.
That left the Panthers five points clear of the Capitals for first place in the Southeast Division with a game in hand, with the playoffs fast approaching.
”Let’s not kid ourselves, I think we’re a doing that right now on both sides of the ledger,” Dineen said. ”Everybody’s looking at what’s happening around the league.
”That was a nice win for us. And I give Buffalo credit. That’s a team that was counted out three weeks ago and it’s amazing the difference.”
Wojtek Wolski scored in regulation and again in a shootout for Florida (37-24-15), which ended a three-game winless run and completed a four-game sweep of Montreal this season. Mikael Samuelsson also scored as Florida outshot Montreal 36-29.
Erik Cole and Louis Leblanc scored for already-eliminated Montreal (29-34-14), which has one win in six games.
”We worked hard,” said Montreal coach Randy Cunneyworth. ”It’s a question of handling pressure at the right moment.”
It was the start of a four-game road trip for Florida that will take them to two more non-playoff opponents, Minnesota and Columbus, before winding up in Detroit. They hope to have a big lead before a showdown with the Capitals in Washington in their next-to-last game of the regular season on April 5.
”We’re in the driver’s seat and we want to tighten our grip a bit,” said Scott Clemmensen, who started in goal in place of regular No. 1 Jose Theodore. ”In a perfect world, we could go into Washington next week and have a big cushion and take that pressure off ourselves.
”But there’s work to do. We have to take care of business on the road against teams that are out of the playoffs in our next two. We expect to get wins in those two games and hopefully Washington loses. But that’s in a perfect world.”
The Panthers had to dig deep to come up with the win in Montreal, where Carey Price was sharp in goal.
Trailing 2-1 in the third, Samuelsson tied the game at 12:48 when his long wrist shot sailed untouched through traffic past Price.
”You don’t critique wins too bad,” Dineen said. ”I thought we played a pretty solid road game for the most part.
”I really liked our bite in the third period when we were down. We were tenacious and confident. We just kept pushing.”
The Panthers got on the board first as Wolski picked up a loose puck at his blue-line, skated on the off-wing down the right side and beat Price with a shot over his glove and off the cross bar at 13:04.
Montreal tied it only 56 seconds later on a power play, as Max Pacioretty banked a puck off goalie Clemmensen to Cole, who had an open side of the net to shoot at.
The Panthers outshot Montreal 13-4 in the middle period, but the Canadiens got the only goal as Frederic St. Denis took advantage of a turnover and sent rookie Leblanc in alone to score his fifth goal in 37 games.
Notes: Although the games are considered sellouts, there have been large numbers of empty seats at recent games in the Bell Centre. . . The Panthers sat out John Madden, Krystopher Barch, Mike Santorelli, Keaton Ellerby and Jack Skille.