SUNRISE (CBSMiami/AP) – The Florida Panthers have been playing their best hockey of the season in recent weeks but will face another hot division rival on Tuesday night in Sunrise.
The Montreal Canadiens followed a successful homestand with consecutive victories to open their longest road trip of the season.
As long as there's solid goaltending, the location doesn't much matter.
The Canadiens look for another strong performance in net Tuesday night as they head to Florida to take on the improving Panthers.
Montreal (23-11-2) has allowed nine goals over its last seven games while riding a red-hot Carey Price. He has posted a 6-1-0 record in that span behind a .956 save percentage and 1.29 goals-against average.
After stopping 37 shots to beat the Islanders last Tuesday to head into the NHL's Christmas break, Price returned to the ice with 28 saves Monday in Montreal's 3-1 win over Carolina.
"Carey Price was Carey Price," coach Michel Therrien said. "We dictated the game. Carey made some big saves."
The Canadiens have been outshot by 7.5 per contest during the past seven games, yielding an average of 31.7. That defensive effort may need to improve should Price, who has started each of the Canadiens' last 10 games, cede the net to backup Dustin Tokarski on Tuesday.
Price is 0-3-0 with a 3.67 GAA since the start of last season on the second night of back-to-backs.
"It's the same story every night. We're used to (Price) bailing us out, but you know what, we have to play better in front of him," Max Pacioretty said. "We love that he's playing so well, but we know in this room that we owe him a couple games and a lot of goals. Hopefully down the road we can do that for him."
Even if it makes sense to start Tokarski on the quick turnaround, there's a case to be made for Price. He's 5-1-1 with a 0.99 GAA in his last seven starts against Florida.
While Montreal sits in the top four in the Eastern Conference, the Panthers (16-9-8) have made a push toward the edge of the playoff picture of late. Florida went into the break with a shootout win over Pittsburgh, then scored four unanswered goals in the third period Sunday to beat Toronto 6-4 for its fourth victory in five tries.
"We had a good chat between periods," coach Gerard Gallant said. "We talked about getting back to our game and playing it smart, and a north-south game, and fortunately for us, we got a couple of good bounces and got breaks, and I thought we worked hard and deserved to win the game."
Jimmy Hayes scored Sunday for his third goal in Florida's last two games. His 10 goals rank second on the team behind only Nick Bjugstad (12), and the 6-foot-6 Hayes will tie a career high with his next one.
"(Sunday) could be a message to us that we want to create more traffic in front of the net," fellow winger Brad Boyes said. "Three of those (four) goals were the result of having scrums in front of the net."
Now Florida goes for its fifth straight win at home, something it hasn't done since March 2012, and it'll likely take the ice with Roberto Luongo in net.
Luongo, who needs two wins to tie Dominik Hasek for 11th on the all-time list, hasn't fared too well against Montreal in recent years. He's 1-6-0 with a 3.30 GAA in his last seven starts dating to his time in Vancouver.
Montreal has taken the last two meetings with Florida, most recently winning 4-1 on March 29 as Price made 36 saves and Pacioretty scored twice with an assist.
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