SUNRISE (CBSMiami/AP) – The level of importance for Sunday’s game at the BB&T Center isn’t nearly what the home team was hoping it would be.
The Montreal Canadiens’ recent struggles have not only cost them the top spot in the Eastern Conference, but now they’re tied atop the Atlantic Division.
Facing the now-eliminated Florida Panthers could solve some of their problems.
The Canadiens attempt to regain sole possession of the division lead by avoiding their longest losing streak in 15 months Sunday night against the Panthers.
Montreal (47-22-10) has lost five of six games (1-2-3) and three in a row, a stretch that may cost it the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens trail the NHL-leading New York Rangers by three points with three games remaining – one fewer than the Rangers.
They’re now on the cusp of their first four-game slide since Jan. 18-24, 2014, which could also cost them a second division title in three seasons. Montreal is tied for first with idle Tampa Bay and has one game in hand on the Lightning, who hold the tiebreaker.
“We’ve played a lot of good hockey this year,” defenseman P.K. Subban said. “These next couple of games are important for us to continue to pay attention to details and make sure we’re sharp. There’s no doubt in my mind that the power play is where we have to be better. It’s been up and down. This is the time of year where we have to figure out what we have to do to put the puck in the net.”
That was a problem again Friday, when Montreal went 1 for 6 with the man advantage and squandered a lead to fall 3-2 in a shootout to New Jersey. That came a day after a 5-4 shootout defeat to Washington.
“It’s definitely a blown opportunity, two shootout loses in a row,” said left wing Max Pacioretty. “It’s two points we can’t take back. We had enough opportunities to close out (Friday’s) game. It’s something we have to work on.”
That hasn’t been too much of a problem against the Panthers (36-28-15), with the Canadiens taking five of the last six matchups (5-0-1) and three straight in Florida.
Montreal won the latest visit 3-2 behind Dustin Tokarski’s 41 saves March 17, while Pacioretty’s overtime tally clinched a victory by the same score at home 11 days prior.
Price only needed to make 21 saves and didn’t have to make any in OT in that meeting, improving to 5-0-1 with a 1.14 goals-against average in his last six against Florida.
He hasn’t come close to being that sharp lately, surrendering eight goals on 62 shots while losing his last two games, including Thursday’s 15-save performance.
The Panthers didn’t do the Canadiens any favors Saturday, when they were eliminated from postseason contention with a 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay. Florida has missed the playoffs in 13 of 14 seasons.
“Disappointed. We were right there,” said goaltender Roberto Luongo, who had 18 saves. “It’s going to be a lot of what-ifs in the next week or so. I wish I would have played better down the stretch for the guys and maybe steal a game or two more, but unfortunately it didn’t happen.”
Jonathan Huberdeau is looking to bounce back after he was a minus-2 Saturday. The left wing had eight points in the previous six games, including a pair of assists at Montreal.
He has five of them in the last four meetings.
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