The Florida Panthers know they need to play as if the regular season is already over.
Ray Whitney, Peter Worrell and Johan Garpenlov scored in a 4:28 span of the second period as the Panthers ended a four-game winless run with a 5-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night.
"We feel we're in the playoffs right now," said Florida winger Bill Linday, who added a third-period goal. "There's only one or two spots available and there's five or six teams battling for them, so we feel that every game is a playoff game. "
"We're working at it."
Florida is just one point behind New York, a 3-2 winner Monday night over Toronto, and Boston, who are tied for eighth place and the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Montreal remains five points behind.
The mood was somber in the Montreal dressing room, much like it was after their 6-1 loss Saturday to the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning.
"I don't know, maybe we're a bunch of chokers," said defenseman Stephane Quintal. "We got close to where we wanted to be. We were two games under .500. But when it came time to push further, we didn't do it."
The Canadiens, who have played two more games than Boston and one more than the Rangers, dropped to 25-31-8.
"I don't think anybody's packed it in," said winger Mark Recchi. "We just haven't done what it takes. "
"I don't think anybody wants to season to be over. But sometimes you need to give that little extra to get the job done and we're not doing that."
Rob Niedermayer also scored for Florida, 23-23-17.
Shayne Corson and Igor Ulanov scored for Montreal.
The Canadiens were outshot 13-7 in the second period, even though Montreal had a 33-27 advantage overall.
"I don't now if (choke) is the word to use," said Montreal coach Alain Vigneault. "We started well."
"We got lots o scoring chances in the first period. But when it came time to face up to adversity, we weren't able to. They got three goals at the start of the second period. That's very difficult."
The Panthers are now 3-3-4 in games without Pavel Bure, who was obtained Jan. 17 in a trade with Vancouver and who has 13 goals in the 11 games he's played for Florida, but who has been out twice with a sore knee. Bure is expected to miss the next 2-3 weeks.
After goaltender Kirk McLean held off an early Canadiens' barrage, Niedermayer kicked Whitney's rebound up to his skate and shot into an open side on the power play 12:02 into the game.
In the second period, Whitney stole the puck in the Montreal zone and beat Jeff Hackett after only 59 seconds. Worrell scored on a rebound at 2:28 and Garpenlov finished a 2-on-1 with Radek Svorak at 5:27.
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