Panthers can’t solve Canadiens’ Niemi, lose seventh in a row

The Florida Panthers’ losing streak has hit an unlucky seven.

Despite a Mike Hoffman highlight-reel goal, the Panthers (17-20-8) lost 5-1 to the Montreal Canadiens (26-17-5) Tuesday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal. It’s the longest losing streak for the Panthers since 2013, when they lost nine games in a row.

“It’s disappointing,” Panthers head coach Bob Boughner said postgame. “It’s been a tough road trip physically and mentally,”

“We didn’t get any luck today,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “I think we outplayed them and played a really good game. We had a lot of chances, we just couldn’t score,”

The Panthers couldn’t solve Canadiens backup and former goaltender Antti Niemi, who made a career-high 52 saves for his eighth victory of the season. Florida’s James Reimer made 20 saves in the loss.

“Those kind of things happen where goalies steal games,” Panthers forward Mike Hoffman said. “It’s just an unfortunate time for [that] to happen, since we’re on this losing streak,”

Hoffman put the Panthers on the board with his 22nd of the season at 14:11 of the first period. Following a turnover by Canadiens’ forward Michael Chaput, Hoffman found himself one-on-one with Niemi. He finished the play with a Peter Forsberg-like finish, dangling the puck on his stick before using one hand to cradle the puck into the open net.

The Canadiens tied the game on a second-period power-play goal from Shea Weber, who fired one home from just outside the faceoff circle. Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle took a penalty with over 17 seconds to go in the first, giving the Habs the man advantage.

“We were willing to give them that high shot from out there,” Boughner said. “He picked the corner and we didn’t get the save that we needed there,”

Moments later, Panthers defenseman Mackenzie Weegar took a hit to the head along the boards from Canadiens forward Paul Byron. As Weegar tried to clear the puck behind his own goalie’s net, Byron’s shoulder hit Weegar’s chin. The forward was given two minutes for charging, while Weegar left the game and did not return. This left the Panthers to play with only defensemen. Boughner confirmed that Weegar is in concussion protocol after the game.

“I thought we should’ve had the five-minute power play there,” Boughner said. “In my mind, at least, [Byron] left his feet. There’s some intent to injure. So we’ll let the league take care of that and see what they think,”

The Canadiens took their first lead of the evening after a Weber shot missed the net and bounced off the backboard, before Phillip Danault retrieved it and spun around before putting the puck past Reimer for his eighth of the season.

Moments after a Canadiens goal that was overturned, Habs forward Max Domi scored with three minutes to go in the second period. Third period goals from Jesperi Kotkaniemi and an empty-net goal from Brendan Gallagher put the game out of reach for Florida.

Montrealer Roberto Luongo was scheduled to start in net for the Panthers, but Reimer was named starter moments before puck drop. Luongo received treatment from the team after the morning skate and remained the team’s backup during the game. According to the Panthers, Luongo wasn’t “feeling well” this afternoon, which led to the late decision to start Reimer.

“Can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” Boughner said. “There’s some good teams waiting for us back in Florida on Friday. We’ve got a tough schedule on the way. We just got to find a way to beat a good team. I think one win will do a lot of good for this team and it will give us some confidence back.”

The Panthers will host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night at 7:00 p.m.