The Florida Panthers put up more of a fight Monday against the visiting Canadiens than they did in Montreal last week.
That’s a positive.
In a season like this, take them when you can.
Although the Panthers were a smidge more competitive against the Atlantic Division-leading Canadiens, the end result was the same as Florida kicked off the final week of its season with a 4-1 loss at BB&T Center.
The highlights: Jonathan Marchessault, signed this year and next for a thrift store price of $750,000 per season, became Florida’s first 30-goal scorer since David Booth did it way back in 2009.
The low: Florida won the Atlantic last season with a franchise-record 103 points. On Monday, Montreal clinched the division title as the Panthers are stuck on 77.
“It’s great but it’s a real empty feeling,” Marchessault said. “We played hard, fought and our team isn’t going to be in the playoffs. It’s fun for getting 30, but, if you don’t make the playoffs, what is it really for?
“This is my first full year and I love this organization, love my teammates. It has been awesome playing with them, they made it easy on me. But we’re not here for stats. We’re here to win the Cup. We’re in good position, have good young players who are ready to get old together.”
Reto Berra, who may be headed back to his native Switzerland to play next season, looked sharp for the most part in the loss. Berra is winless in five decisions since coming up when Roberto Luongo left March 2 in Philadelphia.
The Canadiens, who have won five consecutive and took three of four from the Panthers this season, took a 1-0 lead when Andrew Shaw beat Berra with 6:48 left in the first period.
Florida tied it on Marchessault’s milestone goal after he scored into an empty net as third-string goalie Charlie Lindgren came out too far to play the puck.
Montreal retook the lead early in the third on Artturi Lehkonen’s 15th of the season. Lehkonen scored with 3:11 left to all but end things.
The Canadiens finally did end it with an empty net goal with 1:26 remaining.
The Panthers have three games remaining including home games Thursday (St. Louis) and Saturday (Buffalo) before ending their 2016-17 season Sunday against Eastern Conference-leading Washington.
Monday’s loss was Florida’s fifth since beating Chicago 7-0 here on March 25 and is its 16th in the past 21 games.
Interim head coach Tom Rowe said he hears the disappointment coming from the stands — and elsewhere.
A banner plane circled the arena before Monday’s game with the words: ‘Rowe must go! Call him a cab!’ in reference to Gerard Gallant’s awkward firing in November.
“Fans, they pay good money to watch us play and when they’re not happy ... I’m a big boy and have thick skin,” Rowe said.
“We have a great franchise. I would tell the fans this: We have a great franchise, great players. It’s been a disappointing year but we’ll definitely be back in the playoffs.”