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Canada Trip Helps Florida Panthers Get Back on Track

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Evan Rodrigues celebrates his third-period goal with Brandon Montour as the Florida Panthers beat the Montreal Canadiens for the ninth time in their past 10 tries on Thursday night at the Bell Centre. (Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire)

Coming off a lackluster home performance against Winnipeg last Friday night, Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice challenged his team to treat their upcoming road trip as if it was a playoff series.

Three games against three divisional foes within a span of four days?

Piece of cake.

At least that’s how the Panthers made it look.

On Thursday night, Florida capped that three-game trip by scoring four goals in the third period to beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-1.

Florida ended up going 2-0-1 on the trip.

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The Panthers dominated Ottawa, went end-to-end with Toronto and outclassed the Canadiens.

“These are divisional games. These are huge,’’ Maurice said. “We tried to look at this as a three-game playoff block, get the ‘hard’ back into our game. … We just needed to refocus.’’

Had it not been for a called-back shootout goal from Evan Rodrigues in Toronto, the Panthers would have pulled in all six points.

As it was, they’ll take five and come home with smiles on their faces.

“I think we played pretty well on the road trip and o get five out of six points is awesome,” said Carter Verhaeghe, who scored Florida’s third goal in the third on Thursday. “We liked our first two games better but it was good to come out and get a win. We played a good game.”

Florida got off to a slow start as Maurice said he did not think either the Panthers nor Canadiens — coming off a win in Columbus on Wednesday — had a whole lot of energy.

The Panthers’ penalty kill kept rolling by stoning the Canadiens on all six power play chances to run their success streak to 26 straight.

Not too shabby.

“We gave up two goals in three games. That’s the way we like to play,’’ Rodrigues said. “It’s hard. Teams don’t want to play against us, and that’s what we want our M.O. to be.”

Up 1-0 after Sasha Barkov scored on a 4-on-4 breakaway at XX of the second, Sam Bennett pounced on a loose puck to open the third to make it 2-0.

That’s all Sergei Bobrovsky needed.

The Florida goalie ended up stopping 41 of 42 shots in his two starts with Anthony Stolarz looking terrific in Toronto.

The Panthers did a lot of things right on this road trip.

“We talked about this trip a lot, we didn’t finish well at home against Winnipeg,’’ said Barkov, who has 23 goals in 32 career games against the Canadiens. “We had a tough practice and wanted to have a good road trip. We started well in Ottawa, same in Toronto. Here, too, to finish it off with a win was not easy but we battled as hard as possible and we’re happy with it.”

Up 2-0, Florida got goals from Evan Rodrigues and Verhaeghe before a Montreal shot bounced off Bobrovsky’s glove and in.

E-2.

The Panthers kept up the defensive pressure in the final half of the third and got a bonus goal when Oliver Ekman-Larsson got his sixth of the year — his most in five seasons — in the waning seconds of the game.

Although this was a great trip for the Panthers, there is no time to breathe.

At least not for long.

The Islanders come to town on Saturday to kick off a three-game homestand with Dallas and Pittsburgh to follow.

Then comes a road set which starts in Columbus and ends with stops in Seattle and western Canada.

ON DECK

NEW YORK ISLANDERS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Last Season: Florida won 2-1
  • This Season — At Florida: Saturday; March 28. At Islanders: Jan 27.
  • All-time regular season series: Panthers lead 56-33-11, 8 ties
  • Next Up for the Panthers: Wednesday vs. Dallas, 7 p.m. (TNT)

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