The Panthers’ slim playoff hopes took a shot to the jaw Tuesday as Florida again brought everything it had against a premier opponent and got nothing for it.
As was the case Sunday in New York, the Panthers went hard at Montreal, but it was the Canadiens leaving BB&T Center with a 3-2 victory.
Florida lost to both the Rangers and Canadiens in regulation, meaning no points were earned in the standings.
“We played a pretty good game again, but no points,” coach Gerard Gallant lamented. “We know we have a long way to go.”
Boston, occupying the East’s final playoff spot, holds a commanding seven-point lead on the Panthers.
Ottawa, which won for the 12th time in the past 14 games Tuesday, is four points back of Boston and three points ahead of Florida.
No, it’s not over.
It is pretty close.
“We know how badly we need these points, and it hurts to give them away,” Jonathan Huberdeau said. “We want to make the playoffs so badly. We just have to believe. We have games left. Why not win them all? We’re close every night. We just need to keep working at it.”
Said goalie Dan Ellis: “We had a chance to pick up one more point [on Boston] and instead fell one more point back. We can’t worry about it, just worry about the next one. Things can change in a matter of weeks. Teams can go on [winning] streaks or slumps. You just have to hope we hit the streak and get some help.”
The Panthers took a 1-0 lead 4:20 into the second on a beautiful backhander from Sasha Barkov.
Montreal answered back quickly, tying it 1:24 later.
Down 2-1, Florida tied the score on Brandon Pirri’s 16th goal with 6:25 left in the period, but Montreal matched again and took the lead for good on P.K. Subban’s 40-foot wrister.
The Panthers attempted 98 shots (on goal, missed or blocked) against the Rangers on Sunday and only scored once.
On Tuesday, Florida took aim at Montreal backup Dustin Tokarski 67 times with 43 on goal. Only two found a way past — simply not enough.
“We had a lot of opportunities and just didn’t bury them,” Nick Bjugstad said. “We need to find a way to put ourselves ahead. Our guys are getting chances … but we’re not scoring the way we want to, and it’s costing us.’’
Ellis (22 saves) made his sixth consecutive start as Roberto Luongo works his way back from a shoulder injury.
Luongo took part in Tuesday’s full practice and could be ready to play Thursday against Detroit.
“We have to realize we still have a chance, whether it’s a small one or not,” Ellis said. “We have to play until you don’t have a chance.”
The Panthers held the finals of their “Goal of a Lifetime” contest with Dustin Smith and Bill Ruggiero squaring off against former Florida forwards Radek Dvorak and Marco Sturm in a shootout.
Although the NHL continues shootout rounds so there is no tie, the Panthers stopped Tuesday’s competition after four rounds with both goalies giving up a goal each.
On Wednesday, both will join the Panthers for practice at BB&T Center and take the nets at the end of the workout.
“I think we were both a little [upset it was a tie] at the start, but it’s probably the best thing that could happen,” said Ruggiero, 34, a former minor-league goalie who lives a few hours north of Sunrise in Melbourne.
“We’ll help each other out on [Wednesday].”
▪ After four seasons, the Panthers will have a new primary minor-league affiliate as they move their AHL operations east from San Antonio to Portland, Maine.
Although the Panthers and San Antonio (the Rampage is owned by the Spurs) have enjoyed a solid relationship over the past few years, there is a push for Eastern NHL teams to place their affiliate on the East Coast and vice versa.