The Panthers entered the night as the reigning Atlantic Division champions. That title is no more.
The visiting Canadiens scored four goals to breeze past the Panthers and clinch the division title which previously belonged to the NHL’s southern-most team following a franchise-record 103-point season.
A 6-2 loss to the Canadiens just two games ago officially eliminated the Panthers from post-season contention.
It was nearly a year ago today on April 5th, 2016 that the tables were turned as the Panthers beat the Canadiens by the same score – 4-1 – to clinch the division.
Montreal opened the scoring at 13:12 of the 1st period when Andrew Shaw put a shot from the low slot past goaltender Reto Berra. Alex Galchenyuk banked the off the stick of Berra from the side of the net, and it landed between the circles for an uncontested Shaw.
Jonathan Marchessault potted his 30th goal of the season – and the lone one for the Panthers – just before the halfway mark of the middle frame by out-waiting goaltender Charlie Lindgren at the top of the crease.
Marchessault is the Panthers’ first 30-goal scorer since David Booth scored 32 in the 2008-09 season and he’s the first group 6 unrestricted free-agent to sign with a new team and score 30 goals the next year.
“It’s an empty feeling,” said Marchessault of his milestone. “To not make the playoffs, it’s almost for nothing. Obviously it’s great. I play with great players here but our team is not good enough and it’s just disappointing.”
The 26-year old has been one of the few bright spots in a tough season that is slowly and finally coming to an end for the Panthers.
The Canadiens regained the lead when rookie forward Artturi Lehkonen sent a laser beam of a wrist shot top-shelf past Berra off the rush.
He would go on to make it 3-1 with a hard slap shot on a follow through that whizzed by Berra after a missed breakaway opportunity by Paul Byron. Alexander Radulov scored on an empty net with 1:26 remaining in the 3rd period to ice it.
Reto Berra made 27 saves on 30 shots in his fourth consecutive appearance.
It came on a night that started with a banner plane that said “Rowe must go! Call him a cab!” circling the BB&T Center. The loss was the 16th in the last 21 games and 5th in a row for the Panthers as their downward spiral has seemingly gotten worse with each passing day.
Mackenzie Weegar, who was recalled by the Panthers on Saturday following their AHL affiliate’s game against the Providence Bruins, made his NHL debut. He logged 16 minutes and 45 seconds on the 3rd pair with Mark Pysyk while registering a shot, 2 hits, and a slashing penalty.
“He came up and gave us terrific minutes,” said head coach Tom Rowe. “He’s fighting for a spot here next year and the way he played tonight, he’s going to be a serious candidate.”
Ian McCoshen was recalled alongside Weegar and is expected to make his league debut on Thursday against the St. Louis Blues in the Panthers’ second-to-last home game of the season.
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