SUNRISE, Fla. -- Perhaps the Florida Panthers should lobby to push the clocks back instead of forward because these slow starts are killing them.
For the seventh time in their last eight defeats the Panthers fell behind by at least two goals in the first period. Let's face it, comebacks aren't their thing.
Although they tried with two third-period goals, it was too little too late as the reeling Panthers lost 5-2 to the torrid Montreal Canadiens Sunday night in front of a sold-out BB&T Center that sounded like the Bell Center filled with delirious Habs fans.
"I've been through this before," said a frustrated Shawn Matthias, the longest tenured Panthers with Stephen Weiss out for the season. "I'm sick of losing and sick of being down. It's wearing on me. We need to turn this ship around. It's too frustrating and has gone on long enough ... especially after tasting the playoffs last year."
The NHL basement-dwelling Panthers have dropped 13 of 16 (3-8-5), but were still just six points out of a playoff berth when play began Sunday. In this topsy-turvy matchup, the Canadiens, who have gone from worst to first in the Eastern Conference, are 11-1-3 in their last 15 games.
After sweeping the Canadiens in four games last season, the Panthers finished the season series at 0-2-1, marking the first time in franchise history that Florida didn't register at least one victory over Montreal.
"It's been hard," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "They added 3-4 players ... and went from being one of the worst teams to one of the best, basically because they're an extremely hard-working team and that's a page of the book we need to take."
Right now that book needs a better first chapter as despite playing for the second consecutive night, it was the Canadiens flying down the ice and building a 4-0 lead on a 27-12 shot advantage after two periods. The Panthers are 1-11-4 when the opponent scores first.
The tiring Canadiens suddenly realized they were wrapping up a 4-1 road trip, as backup goalie Peter Budaj's spoiled his own stress-free shutout bid when he inadvertently knocked Tomas Kopecky's shot into his own net. It was Kopecky's 10th goal to match last season's 80-game output at 7:59.
Then Jack Skille fed a streaking Matthias, who ripped a slapper in at 13:57 to make it interesting. A blossoming Matthias has four goals in his past six games.
However, an ill-timed holding penalty by Kris Versteeg sapped the Panthers' momentum and brought out the 30th-ranked PK unit that proceeded to allow its second power-play goal of the game, both on Michael Ryder's tip-ins of P.K. Subban's shots to reawaken the obnoxious chants.
"It pisses you off, especially when you go out before the anthem and you hear them going nuts," Matthias said. "It does bother you, but we didn't give our fans much to cheer about like they did theirs. We didn't silence them. What do you expect?
"They were ripe for the picking and we didn't take advantage of it."
For the third straight game Markstrom has given up two quick goals in the opening period, including Montreal's third shot, another unscreened wrister, albeit from close range, by David Desharnais into the far corner at 1:46.
"We got to show up," Panthers disconsolate forward Peter Mueller said. "It's definitely not fun when you start up from the drop of the puck and they score within 1:30. They got the momentum just like that and we're battling up ice."
The Panthers will hear more of these chants in the future as once the NHL board of governors give their final seal of approval for realignment next season, the Panthers will join the eight-team Central Division with the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Senators, Red Wings, Bruins, Sabres and Lightning.
RHEAULT SENT DOWN
The Panthers returned forward Jonathan Rheault to San Antonio Sunday morning after he played the first three games of his NHL career this week.
TALLON DENIES SALARY DUMP
After sources in an article in the Ottawa Sun suggested that Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon has given up on the playoffs this season and has hung the "for sale" sign on veterans with huge salaries such as Kris Versteeg, Tallon went on the local Fox-TV broadcast to say he's, "sticking to the plan," and will not mortgage the future."
The trade deadline is on April 3.
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