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MONTREAL (CBSMiami/AP) – If the Florida Panthers are going to continue moving closer to a playoff spot, they’re going to have to beat one of the East’s top teams to do it.

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The Montreal Canadiens are tied for the Eastern Conference lead, thanks in large part to Carey Price’s dominance.

After a night off, Price will be back in net Thursday night looking to continue his success against the visiting Panthers.

With 78 points, Montreal (37-16-4) is tied with Tampa Bay for the top spot in the conference with three games in hand. The Canadiens failed to take sole possession Wednesday, falling 4-2 at Ottawa despite matching their season high with 44 shots.

Montreal failed to record a point for the first time in seven games (5-1-1).

“We played a game that we can’t play,” coach Michel Therrien said. “It was good to get 44 shots, but we gave up too much to our opponents.”

Dustin Tokarski made 35 saves Wednesday to lose his third consecutive start.

Price, meanwhile, has won five straight and 10 of 11 starts, posting a 1.16 goals-against average and three shutouts during that span. His 1.93 GAA is the league’s lowest and his 32 wins rank second.

He was perfect in his most recent outing, stopping 25 shots in a 2-0 victory at Detroit on Monday.

A matchup with Florida (25-19-12) isn’t likely to slow him down.

Price has won his last four meetings with the Panthers behind a 0.75 GAA. He made 36 saves and Max Pacioretty had two goals and an assist in a 4-1 road victory March 29.

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Tokarski turned aside 36 shots in a 2-1 shootout win Dec. 30, Montreal’s third straight in the series.

Pacioretty’s goal Wednesday was his fourth in six games and gave him 11 points in 11 contests.

Also contributing lately is defenseman P.K. Subban, who has five assists in four games and six in the last four at home.

While the Canadiens seem to be on their way to a third straight playoff appearance, the Panthers are chasing just their second postseason berth since 2000. They are three points behind Boston in the race for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

“It was our goal at the first of the year to be in the race, and we are in the race,” first-year coach Gerard Gallant said. “When we’re playing good hockey we have a chance to beat anybody.”

Gallant’s club opened a five-game road trip with a 3-2 victory over Toronto on Tuesday, ending a three-game skid.

Nick Bjugstad continues to be the Panthers’ top offensive threat, leading the team with a career-high 21 goals. His next tally will give him the most by a Panther in a single season since 2011-12.

The third-year center has five goals and two assists in eight games, scoring in each of the last two. He had Florida’s goal in the shootout loss to Montreal in December.

Jimmy Hayes scored his 17th goal Tuesday and has seven points in his last eight games.

Roberto Luongo made 27 saves to beat the Maple Leafs and allowed two goals or fewer for the sixth start in a row. He’s 1-6-1 with a 2.98 GAA in his last eight matchups with Montreal.

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