Panthers beat Canadiens, keep pace with Penguins in Wild Card race
MONTREAL — Matthew Tkachuk etched his name into the history books in impressive fashion on Thursday.
Tkachuk had a hat trick and one assist in leading the Florida Panthers to a 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. With his second goal, Tkachuk became the fourth player in NHL history to hit 100-plus points in consecutive seasons after changing teams in the off-season.
He joined the likes of Wayne Gretzky (1987-88 — 1988-89), Jimmy Carson (1987-88 — 1988-89) and Mike Rogers (1980-81 — 1981-82) in achieving the feat.
“It's pretty cool, but it’s probably the last time I'll ever be in the same sentence as (Gretzky),” Tkachuk said of the accomplishment. “Very, very cool.”
For Florida head coach Paul Maurice, Tkachuk is much more than a 100-point contributor.
“There's no cheat in his game,” Maurice said. “Really good players anticipate and then good players cheat. There's never any of that.
“He's not trying to do things with the puck that are all offence with no understanding of the cost of the defensive game. ... If we could afford the minutes, we would have him kill penalties because he just gets it. He's just such a bright man on the ice.”
Anton Lundell added two goals and one assist for the Panthers (38-31-7). Alex Lyon made 18 saves in helping Florida sweep its season series against Montreal.
With 83 points, the Panthers inched themselves closer to the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot and find themselves one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins have one game in hand over Florida.
“Being able to get both (wins) was huge and we know where we're at right now,” Tkachuk said about his team’s last 48 hours. “We know how important these two points are each and every night. So, very important one on the road trip in Columbus on Saturday.”
Sean Farrell, with his first career goal, and Rafael Harvey-Pinard scored for the Canadiens (30-46-6), who dropped their second in a row.
Sam Montembeault stopped 25 shots.
Farrell opened the scoring 1:23 into the first period by taking a shot from along the boards that was mishandled by Lyon and went in. He added after the game that he was actually attempting a centring pass for Brendan Gallagher.
“It was a really cool moment, it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Farell said. “I think (Gallagher) and (Jake Evans) saw it go in before I did, I just reacted based off of them so it was cool to share with those guys.”
Habs coach Martin St. Louis gave the rookie a promotion in the third period by bumping him up to the first line alongside Nick Suzuki.
“I’m happy that he scored a goal,” St. Louis said. “He’s obviously going to remember that. It’s a weird goal but I’m sure he’ll take it.
“I changed my lines a little to create a spark and I liked what I saw. You can tell. He gets some good touches, he plays with pace and he was good tonight.”
Lundell knotted the game at 4:09, zooming into the slot to score his 11th goal of the season after Montembeault gave up a rebound off a Tkachuk shot.
Tkachuk finished off a tick-tack-toe sequence with Brandon Montour and Sam Reinhart to give the Panthers a 2-1 edge 3:59 into the second period on the power play.
Just under two minutes later, Tkachuk scored his second, beating Montembeault with a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle.
Lundell upped Florida’s lead to three when he stole the puck from Suzuki in Montreal’s zone to create a breakaway opportunity. The Finland native deked Montembeault and bagged his second of the night.
Harvey-Pinard redirected Mike Matheson’s shot on the power play at 18:35 of the third period.
Tkachuk completed his hat trick with 20 seconds remaining by scoring an empty-netter.
The Canadiens announced in the lead-up to Thursday night that centre Kirby Dach would miss at least one week with an upper-body injury. After being named a game-time decision, defenceman David Savard (lower body) was ultimately ruled out and listed as day-to-day with Chris Wideman replacing him in the lineup.
After playing his first NHL game on Tuesday, Farrell played his first career game at the Bell Centre on Thursday. The 21-year-old signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Canadiens last Sunday.
The Canadiens host the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.
The Panthers head to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets on Saturday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2023.