While baseball celebrated Opening Day on Thursday, the Florida Panthers were finding newfound postseason life against the Canadiens.
Coming off a comeback win the night before in Toronto to snap a season-long four-game losing streak, the Panthers could not afford a letdown in Montreal if they wanted to keep pace with Pittsburgh for the final wild card spot in the East.
There was no letdown.
Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell made sure of it.
Tkachuk ended up assisting on Lundell’s first goal before scoring three of his own to help Florida take the season sweep of the Canadiens with a 5-2 win.
Lundell, who went 12 games without scoring against the Maple Leafs, scored the other two against the Canadiens.
Alex Lyon, making his second consecutive start in place of the ill Sergei Bobrovsky, ended the night with 18 saves.
The Panthers end up keeping pace with the Pittsburgh Penguins as they beat the visiting Predators 2-0. The Pens hold a one-point advantage on Florida for that last playoff spot.
With the three points, Tkachuk became the second 100-point scorer in Panthers history — with Jonathan Huberdeau, the player traded to Calgary for Tkachuk, becoming the first last season.
Florida actually trailed 1-0 on a strange shot from Sean Farrell which slipped past Lyon less than 90 seconds into the game.
It was, pretty much, all Panthers from there.
Lundell tied the score by hopping on a Tkachuk rebound at 4:09 of the first.
In the second, Tkachuk scored twice within a span of two minutes early in the second.
The Panthers had a couple of other big scoring chances, including ones from both Lundell and Tkachuk, but went into the third up 3-1.
Lundell ended up giving the Panthers all the breathing room they would need, lifting the puck from Nick Suzuki and walking in on Sam Montembeault midway through the third.
GOALS OF THE GAME
- Canadiens 1, Panthers 0 (1:23, 1st): Former Harvard standout Sean Farrell gets his first NHL goal by throwing up an odd-angled shot which appeared to clip Marc Staal and get past Alex Lyon.
- Panthers 1, Canadiens 1 (4:09, 1st): Anton Lundell gets his first in as many games after snapping a 12-game drought but jumping on a big rebound from a Matthew Tkachuk shot.
- Panthers 2, Canadiens 1 (3:59, 2nd): Tkachuk cashes in on the power play chance as he camps out and buries a Sam Reinhart pass.
- Panthers 3, Canadiens 1 (5:57, 2nd): Tkachuk gets to 100 points for the season by whipping a wrist shot off a Lundell delivery to give Florida a little breathing room.
- Panthers 4, Canadiens 1 (10:15, 3rd): Lundell gets his second of the night with a terrific pickpocket of Nick Suzuki and a pretty walk-in goal against Sam Montembeault.
- Panthers 4, Canadiens 2 (18:35, 3rd): Rafael Harvey-Pinard got a 6-on-4 power play goal in the final minutes to give the Canadiens at least a little hope.
- Panthers 5, Canadiens 2 (19:40, 3rd): Tkachuk with the empty netter for the hat trick. Hey, it counts.
GR’S 3 STARS OF THE GAME
1. Matthew Tkachuk, Florida
2. Anton Lundell, Florida
3. Alex Lyon, Florida
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
- When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5 FM-2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Tied 1-1): Blue Jackets 5, Panthers 3 (Nov. 20); Panthers 4, Blue Jackets 0 (Dec. 13)
- Last season: Florida won 2-1
- All-time regular season series: Columbus leads 26-16-4
- Up Next for the Panthers: Buffalo Sabres at Florida, Tuesday, 7 p.m.