For all intents and purposes, despite having a dozen games left on the schedule, this was a must-win game for the Panthers against the lowly Montreal Canadiens.
The Panthers have reached the point in the season in which they can’t afford to drop any precious points, and Florida took full advantage of its opportunity to inch closer to a playoff spot with a 2-0 victory on Monday night.
Roberto Luongo made 28 saves to earn his third shutout of the season. It was the third time in a row the Panthers shut out the Canadiens this season.
Thanks to the win, the Panthers now sit just three points behind New Jersey Devils for the final wild-card spot, with two games in hand.
It was a slow start for both teams at the Bell Centre, until alternate captain Aaron Ekblad brought everyone out of their seats by fighting Canadiens tough man Nicolas Deslauriers.
The animosity continued shortly thereafter, as Michael McCarron got the best of Panthers defenseman Alexander Petrovic, dropping him with a right hook that sent the hulking defenseman back to the locker room for some repairs.
With just 1:29 left in the first period Ekblad was again the center of attention, but this time it was due to his goal-scoring prowess rather than his fists.
He put together a fantastic individual effort to open the scoring by stealing the puck in a high-danger area and proceeding to dangle around Jeff Petry, before scoring a beautiful backhand goal against former Panthers goalie Antti Niemi.
In the third period, Sasha Barkov finally gave the Panthers the insurance they needed, scoring his 26th goal of the season.
The Panthers’ crucial three-game road trip continues Tuesday, as they face the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place, ending with a game on Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets before they back head home to face the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday.