Final

Series (Game 1 of 4)

Montreal leads 3-1

Game 1: Thursday, December 31st
Canadiens5Final
Panthers4
Game 2: Thursday, January 7th
Panthers0Final
Canadiens2
Game 3: Tuesday, January 26th
Canadiens1Final
Panthers2
Game 4: Thursday, March 25th
Panthers1Final
Canadiens4

Canadiens 5

(21-19-3, 45 pts)

Panthers 4

(16-18-7, 39 pts)

Coverage: RDS

5:00 PM ET, December 31, 2009

BB&T Center, Sunrise, Florida

1 2 3 T
MTL 1 2 25
FLA 2 1 14

A. Markov (Canadiens - D): Goals: 0, Assists: 3

N. Horton (Panthers - RW): Goals: 1, Assists: 1

B. Pouliot (Canadiens - LW): Goals: 1, Assists: 0

Canadiens-Panthers Preview

STATS LLC

Jacques Martin failed to get the Florida Panthers into his playoffs during his time there as a coach and general manager. After a rough start behind the bench in Montreal, he seems to be finding success with his new team.

Martin returns to Florida for the first time Thursday night when the Canadiens close what has been a successful seven-game road trip against the Panthers.

Martin coached the Panthers from 2005-08 and was the general manager for three seasons. They failed to reach the playoffs under his watch, and he was stripped of coaching duties in June 2006 to focus solely on his role as an executive.

Still, the Canadiens introduced Martin in June, hoping he could get them deeper into the playoffs after they were swept in the first round by Boston.

"I'm sure it's almost every young kid's dream to coach the Canadiens or play for the Canadiens," Panthers president Michael Yormark said at the time. "Clearly, Jacques was interested."

The Canadiens (20-19-3) come in with momentum. They had dropped five in a row heading into their longest road trip of the season, but improved to 5-1-0 with a 2-1 overtime victory over Tampa Bay on Wednesday.

Tomas Plekanec tallied the game-winner after Brian Gionta, who was playing in his second game after missing 21 with a foot injury, scored for the first time since Nov. 12.

Plekanec, the Canadiens' leader with 36 assists and 45 points, has three goals and eight assists on the trip

"Not bad. No complaints today," Plekanec said hours after being selected for the Czech Olympic team. "I hope there'll be more days like that."

Despite the surge, Montreal is fourth in the Northeast Division, but only four points behind the second-place Bruins.

The Canadiens received more solid play in goal Wednesday, although for the first time on the trip, Carey Price was the one who provided it. He made 34 saves to record his first victory since Dec. 7 against Philadelphia.

But Jaroslav Halak could start in this contest. He's 4-1-0 with a 1.79 goals-against average on the trip, stopping 180 of 186 shots, and has yet to lose to the Panthers, going 2-0-0 with a 2.89 GAA.

Whoever starts against Florida (16-17-7) will try to further stifle a team that has scored one goal in each of its last two games including 2-1 to Boston on Sunday.

Scott Clemmensen was the surprise starter and gave up goals in the second and third periods after Dominic Moore had given Florida an early lead. Tomas Vokoun, who had shut out the Bruins his previous two starts, was given the night off.

"You make (the decision to start Clemmensen) on a gut (feeling) and I just thought it was the right thing to do," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said.

DeBoer may want to start Clemmensen again. He has won all three starts against the Canadiens with a 1.33 GAA. Vokoun, meanwhile, is 3-4-2 with one tie and a 2.63 GAA.

Stephen Weiss, who has a team-high 18 goals and is tied with Nathan Horton for the lead with 37 points, was held off the scoresheet for a second straight game Sunday. Weiss hasn't gone three games without a point since October 21-24.

He had a goal and three assists in his last two games against Montreal last season.

The Canadiens won the season series 3-1-0.

SPONSORED HEADLINES