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Montreal Canadiens Ready to Play Spoiler Against the Florida Panthers

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Florida Panthers captain Sasha Barkov, here scoring against the Capitals on Feb. 16, says his team cannot overlook the Montreal Canadiens as they continue pushing toward a playoff spot. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The Montreal Canadiens have been overlooked all season but the Florida Panthers know they cannot due so on Thursday night.

Perhaps the Penguins did on Tuesday — and look where that got them.

Montreal went into Pittsburgh riding a seven-game losing streak but opened up with four goals in the opening period and then got the go-ahead goal 3:05 into the third to upset the Penguins 6-4.

While it appears the Penguins are in command of their spot as the first wild card in the Eastern Conference, losing to the Canadiens did not help them in their quest for postseason positioning.

They certainly could afford a loss to Montreal a lot more than the Panthers can.

“They are playing well and have a good team,” said captain Sasha Barkov, whose team comes into Thursday five points behind the Islanders for the final wild card spot with three games in hand.

“No matter who we play, we have to keep building our game. We have been playing good lately, playing the right way. We just have to find a way to win games.”

The Panthers have points in their past four games (3-0-1) with an overtime loss Saturday night against Winnipeg thwarting what could have been the team’s first four-game winning streak of the season.

Florida is 2-0 against the Canadiens this season — outscoring them 13-4 in the process — but simply cannot let its guard down tonight.

“(Montreal) is playing with a lot of spirit,” coach Paul Maurice said. “Even with some of the losses they have had, they have been tight ones. They are developing ideals and values in their goals. They have been good. (Pittsburgh) was a good one for them, playing on back-to-back nights. We are taking them very seriously. We have to be at our best.”

POWER PLAY CHANGE

Maurice said the Panthers were going to keep Carter Verhaeghe in place of Aaron Ekblad on the top power play unit for the time being after they made that change Friday night against the Blackhawks.

Florida’s power play had been struggling of late but scored three goals against the Jets on Saturday night.

“It is a rarity not to have your No. 1 goal-scorer on your top power play unit,’’ Maurice said of Verhaeghe. “Sometimes that happens. We liked it and think it is a different kind of threat for us. I am not sure about the permanence of it, but we’re certainly going to run it for a little while.’’

GOALIE MIX

With the Panthers only playing twice this week, the Panthers sent backup Alex Lyon to AHL Charlotte so he can get into some games.

Florida will play a back-to-back set in Detroit and Philadelphia starting Monday with the expectation Lyon will meet the team in Michigan. Mack Guzda was recalled to backup Sergei Bobrovsky.

Bobrovsky should start Thursday and Saturday as well as Monday’s game in Detroit. Charlotte has a pair of games this weekend in Toronto against the Marlies.

PANTHERS ON DECK

MONTREAL CANADIENS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
  • Last season: Florida won 3-1
  • This season (Florida leads 2-0): Panthers 7, Canadiens 2 (Dec. 29); Panthers 6, Canadiens 2 (Jan. 19)
  • All-time regular season series: Florida leads 53-38-11, 6 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: New Jersey Devils at Florida, Saturday, 5 p.m.

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