Luostarinen scores twice, Panthers tops Canadiens fourth consecutive win
Cole Caufield scored for the Canadiens, who dropped their second straight game in regulation after getting at least one point in each of their previous five games. Jake Allen stopped 22 shots for Montreal.
“We played some great teams and got some huge wins,” Luostarinen said after Florida wound up the 2023 calendar year with wins over Vegas, Tampa Bay, the New York Rangers and now Montreal. “It’s a good end of the year for us.”
Luostarinen opened the scoring by deflecting an Evan Rodrigues shot 4:05 into the second period. Caufield scored a power-play goal of his own 7:01 into the second, and then Luostarinen gave Florida the lead for good with 12:26 left.
“He is one of those guys who pushes himself every day in practice and in the games and he keeps driving,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said of Luostarinen. "Those guys can make plays late in games because their hands aren’t wobbly and they’re not fatigued. He has just been a great force.”
Bennett deflected an Oliver Ekman-Larsson shot with 4:34 left for a 3-1 lead, and Verhaeghe added an empty-netter.
The Canadiens play their sixth game in a run of seven straight on the road — three before Christmas, four following the break for the holiday — on Sunday night in Tampa Bay, a game that’ll mark the fourth time former Lightning great Martin St. Louis has been back there as Montreal’s coach.
Montreal is 1-2-0 in St. Louis’ three previous appearances in Tampa as coach of the Canadiens. The Canadiens are 0-6-0 against the Panthers since St. Louis took over, Florida winning all of those games by at least three goals.
“I thought we were working,” St. Louis said. “They are a hard team and we were 1-1 going into the third after what I thought was a really good first period. The second was good, but we still found a way to be 1-1. It’s hard to play 60 minutes of good hockey when you are playing good teams. They have to make you struggle at times. That’s just the game. But I like my team.”
It was Florida’s final game of 2023, the year in which the Panthers won more games than ever before. They won 61 times in 2023, a year highlighted by a run to the Stanley Cup Final and one that only added to the best run in the franchise’s history.
Over the last three calendar years, the Panthers have averaged 59.3 wins. In the franchise’s history, from 1993 through 2020, it averaged 31 wins per year.
Canadiens: Visit Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Panthers: Visit Arizona on Tuesday to start a four-game trip.
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