As the Panthers battled Tampa Bay on Saturday night, the Montreal Canadiens were in town early, enjoying the sights and sounds of Fort Lauderdale Beach.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, the Canadiens seemingly had nothing but the business of the upcoming postseason on their minds Sunday afternoon.
With its 4-1 win over Florida at BB&T Center, Montreal moved back into sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference.
The Canadiens will make their 83rd playoff appearance in the coming weeks.
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Florida was eliminated for the 17th time in the franchise’s 21 seasons after Saturday’s 4-0 loss to the Lightning.
The hangover from Saturday night seemed to belong to the Panthers and not the visitors from Quebec.
“We weren’t very good; we checked out, it looked like,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said. “I wasn’t very happy with our performance. Montreal got the lead, and we took a lot of penalties. When we take that many penalties, we’re not going to beat anyone.’’
Since routing Carolina 6-1 on Thursday, the Panthers have been outscored 8-1 in their past two home games.
“You go from playing for a playoff position to knowing you’re out of it,’’ goalie Dan Ellis said. “Those games are more difficult to grind through mentally.’’
Although the Panthers are now playing out the string after being on the periphery of the playoff race the past month or so, the Canadiens actually have something to play for.
Montreal, which won four of five against the Panthers this season, is trying to hold off the Lightning while chasing down the Rangers for the top overall seed in the conference.
Montreal trails New York and Anaheim by a point for the top slot in the Presidents’ Trophy race, although the Rangers have played two fewer games.
“They’re playing for first overall in the conference and are battling hard,’’ said Gallant, an assistant with the Canadiens the previous two seasons.
“To me, every game is important, and I want us playing all of them hard. But we didn’t do that.’’
Montreal took a 1-0 lead as Florida’s Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson both took penalties around the same time giving the Canadiens its first of two 5-on-3 advantages with Tomas Plekanec scoring 6:36 into the game.
That power-play chance may prove costly, however, as leading scorer Max Pacioretty got wrapped up by Kulikov and ended up slamming his head into the boards.
Pacioretty didn’t return to the game, and his injury status is unknown.
The Panthers tied it at 1 in the second with rookie Aaron Ekblad slamming home a power-play slap shot.
But just 46 seconds later, the Canadiens took the lead back for good when Brandon Gallagher scored. That came moments after Alex Petrovic narrowly missed scoring to give Florida the lead.
The Panthers wouldn’t be this close again.
Montreal scored three times in the second period to take a 4-1 lead.
“It wasn’t a good enough effort from us, first of all me,’’ Willie Mitchell said. “It’s hard to describe. Our goal was to make the playoffs and after the last game we were officially eliminated.
“Sometimes your mind is in a different place. You have to find a way to play better although the games don’t mean anything. We’re disappointed. Our heads were in a different place. We put a lot into this.’’
▪ Gallant sat forwards Brad Boyes and Scottie Upshall with Shawn Thornton going back into the lineup. Defenseman Steven Kampfer also started up on a forward line for the second time in a week.
“We switched some guys, that’s all,’’ Gallant said. “He played well on the right side the last time we did it. You want to see some of that stuff.’’
-- Goalie Roberto Luongo backed up Ellis but spent the final two periods of the game not on the bench but in the locker room. Gallant and GM Dale Tallon said Luongo was ill.