MONTREAL -- A razor-sharp Tim Thomas and the referees did all they could to give the Panthers a puncher's chance in the Bell Centre shooting gallery Monday night.
But in the end, the Panthers woke up too late to overcome Canadiens' goalie Carey Price and the lack of offensive balance in a 2-1 loss to Montreal.
Although the Canadiens own the fourth-best goals-against mark in the league, they had been outshot in each of their last seven games, while allowing 26 goals. Not Monday, as Thomas must've felt like a dart board as Montreal held a 25-11 edge after the first two periods (35-27 overall) en route to downing the Panthers for the first time in three games this season.
The Panthers never quit as they took advantage of Montreal's defensive shell in the third period, but Price came up with a huge save (26) against a red-hot Sean Bergenheim to notch his 20th win.
"That was a perfect shot from me. He made a great save," Bergenheim said. "We're not happy at all with how we played."
Tied at 1-1 after a first period in which the Canadiens outshot Florida 13-5 and had their first of two goals disallowed, Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski made his first costly mistake in his second game back following a 10-month recovery from hip surgery.
A poor clearing attempt was picked off by an alert Tomas Plekanec behind Thomas (33 saves). Plekanec whistled it to Brian Gionta, whose one-time wrister from the left dot at 15:46 staked the flying Canadiens to a 2-1 lead after two periods. Montreal is 21-0-3 in such scenarios.
The Canadiens grabbed a 1-0 lead on their first shot of the game at 6:23 when center David Desharnais actually fanned on his initial shot only to spin around with a backhander from the slot that surprised Thomas on his glove side. The Canadiens are 19-2-2 when scoring first.
"They got a funky goal the first one there. I think he fanned twice, then a spin-o-rama backhand," Thomas said. "I just battled to keep us in the game."
The torrid B-Unit struck again at 17:09 as from behind the net Bergenheim sent the puck to Brad Boyes in the circle. He fed rookie center Aleksander Barkov in the slot, where the Finnish phenom placed it on Bergenheim's stick for a backhand redirection, his 10th goal and sixth in six games.
Barkov's helper extended his point streak to six games (1-6-7), to tie a franchise rookie record shared by Kristian Huselius (2001) and Jesse Belanger (1993). He has notched 12 of his team-leading 22 points in the past 12 games to make a strong bid for the Finnish Olympic team, which will be announced on Tuesday.
GUDDY AND JOVO REUNION
Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson returned Monday after missing just five games while recovering from a broken orbital bone, sustained when a puck struck him during the Jets' game on Dec. 23.
Gudbranson, 21, who was paired with Jovanovski for the first time since his rookie season, is wearing a football-like, caged helmet to protect his eye.
"This past week I've been skating with it, so I've got pretty used to it, so it won't be an issue," Gudbranson said after morning skate.
Gudbranson's former partner, Dylan Olsen (lower body), missed his second game, but Horachek said he may rejoin the team in Buffalo.
NO OLYMPICS FOR FLEISCHMANN
Panthers left wing Tomas Fleischmann was hoping to play for the Czech Republic in the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, but he was left off their 25-man roster that was released Monday.
"I had a great time in Vancouver (in 2010 Olympics)," Fleischmann said before the team was announced. "I always dreamed about making the Olympic team. I was happy I did and it was a fun time against the best players in the NHL and around the world."
Former Canadiens forward Scott Gomez was scratched for the 14th time in the past 16 games. ... Horachek scratched forward Jimmy Hayes for the first time s
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