Five takeaways from the Panthers’ 2-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night.
1. The Panthers’ hunt for the playoffs is alive and well. With the 2-0 win against the Canadiens, the Panthers sit just three points out of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand on the New Jersey Devils.
Their final two games of the current road trip, against the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets, will go a long way in determining their fate.
“We understand that we control our own destiny with the game in hands. We just have to do our own job, and hopefully, at the end of the day it’s good enough” said head coach Bob Boughner.
The Panthers have 12 games remaining on the schedule, including three against the Boston Bruins, who have won seven of their past 10 games. Every point from here to the end of the season is crucial, as the playoff race in the East heads toward a thrilling finish for all teams involved.
2. Evgenii Dadonov didn’t score, but he played a fantastic game. In the first period alone he stole two pucks, had a breakaway and hit the post during a penalty kill. He also made a nice pass to Nick Bjugstad, which led to a good scoring chance for the Panthers. In the second period, he continued making a positive impact by stripping rookie defenceman Noah Juulsen of the puck and getting yet another breakaway opportunity. To cap it off he had a good scoring chance in the third period.
“I didn’t score though!” he said after the game, laughing. “But at least I had chances. And really, it’s all about the points in the standings.”
The Panthers had six high-danger scoring chances against the Canadiens, and Dadonov was personally responsible for half of them.
While he was on the ice the Panthers controlled over 77 percent of the shot attempts and over 85 percent of the scoring chance You won’t find his name on the scoresheet, but he was a force to be reckoned with on Monday night.
With performances like that, it’s not surprising that Dadonov is having an excellent season, with 22 goals and 32 assists since coming over from the KHL.
3. Robert Luongo loves playing against the Canadiens. He made 28 saves on Monday night to earn his second shutout in a row against Montreal. His first came earlier this month when he made 40 saves in a 5-0 drubbing of the Canadiens on March 9. It’s also worth noting that James Reimer had a 38-save shutout against the Canadiens in late December, which means the Panthers haven’t allowed them to score since Oct. 24, 2017.
But Luongo wasn’t really in the mood to talk about his exploits following the game. He’s focused on the ultimate goal as the Panthers fight for a playoff spot.
“Right now we’re just focused on ourselves, and what we need to do to be successful. It just happens that we match up well against them,” explained Luongo, following his 17th career win against the Canadiens.
His team made life relatively easy on him, seeing as they controlled more than 67 percent of the shot attempts and 73 percent of the scoring chances during the game. The Panthers only allowed two high-danger shots from the Canadiens.
4. Aaron Ekblad showed up when it mattered most. Not only did he engage in fisticuffs with noted fighter Nicolas Deslauriers, which resulted in a healthy shiner under his left eye, but the Panthers’ alternate captain scored an absolutely beautiful goal to open the scoring at the end of the first period.
“I think the puck was bouncing a little bit. It was a little lucky, but still one of the nicer ones I scored. All things went my way on that play,” he said.
Ekblad tied a career high by scoring his 15th goal of the season, and he still has a dozen games to beat that mark.
“Before the season I always set out to reach a few personal goals, but in the end, it’s the team that matters. Goals are nice, but making the playoffs is what the guys are focused on.”
If the Panthers do manage to make the playoffs, there’s no doubt that Ekblad will play a key role, not only with his physical play, but his ability to shut down opposing forwards and his offensive instincts.
5. The Panthers have their eyes on the prize. The message was clear following the 2-0 win against the Canadiens: it doesn’t matter who scores, who makes saves, or how they win, the Panthers just want to earn two points during every game from here on end.
“If we win the Cup, and I get zero points on the season, I’m fine with it,” joked Dadonov after the game.
“At the end of the day, we want the two points. It doesn’t matter how we get them,” said Luongo.
“Being in the position we are, it didn’t matter if we won the game 5-2 or 2-0, it’s just a win for us,” explained Boughner.
“We don’t feel any added pressure. We hold our fate in our own hands, and we’re going to do something special,” stated Ekblad.
If they keep playing at this level, Ekblad prophecy may very well come true. But in the meantime, their level of focus and work ethic will go a long way in making sure they have a chance to do something special this season.