SUNRISE (SportsDirect Inc.) — The Florida Panthers can break the franchise record for wins in a season and solidify their hold on first place in the Atlantic Division when they host the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
The Panthers took over the top spot with a 3-2 triumph over New Jersey on Thursday, tying the 1999-2000 team with 43 victories with five games remaining left in order to set a new standard.
Florida owns a two-point lead over Tampa Bay in the division as its top line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr is heating up, recording seven goals and 10 assists over the last four games.
“They played really well,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant told reporters after the trio scored all three goals in Thursday’s win. “They’re our leaders and they took control tonight.”
The Canadiens have been eliminated from playoff contention but are making an impact after knocking of two straight postseason hopefuls.
Mike Condon, who is slated to start Saturday, notched his first career shutout in a 3-0 win at Tampa Bay on Thursday and coach Michel Therrien told reporters, “I thought we competed. We played the right away.”
TV: 7 p.m. ET, Sportsnet, TVA (Montreal), FSN Florida
ABOUT THE CANADIENS (36-36-6): Torrey Mitchell and David Desharnais both reached double digits in goals Thursday while defenseman Alexei Emelin notched a pair of assists. Captain Max Pacioretty (57 points) and Alex Galchenyuk (52) – the team’s top two scorers – were kept off the scoresheet against Tampa Bay to remain at 27 goals apiece. Brendan Gallagher (groin) is expected to return to the lineup Saturday, but defenseman Nathan Beaulieu suffered a broken thumb Thursday and is lost for the season.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (43-25-9): Huberdeau has netted five goals in his last four contests while Jagr has recorded six points and Barkov five in the same span. Nick Bjugstad moved between Reilly Smith and Jussi Jokinen, who is second behind Jagr (61) on the team in points with 58, with Vincent Trocheck (ankle) out for the rest of the regular season. The Panthers did get defenseman Erik Gudbranson and Derek MacKenzie back from lower-body injuries for the game against New Jersey.
1. The Panthers have outscored the Canadiens 7-2 in two victories this season and will visit Montreal on Tuesday.
2. Florida G Roberto Luongo (32-19-6 this season), who was rested Thursday, is 12-14-4 lifetime with a .921 save percentage against the Canadiens.
3. Montreal RW Sven Andrighetto has recorded a goal and three assists during his three-game point streak.
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