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Antti Niemi s heroics lead Canadiens past Panthers at Bell Centre

Antti Niemi s heroics lead Canadiens past Panthers at Bell Centre
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It was the third consecutive win for the Canadiens, who maintained their hold on the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with 57 points. Montreal is one point ahead of the New York Islanders, but the Islanders continue to hold three games in hand.

Niemi didn’t have any trouble getting into the game. The Panthers had an 8-0 edge in shots on goal before Shea Weber registered the Canadiens’ first shot at the seven-minute mark.

By the time the first period ended, the Panthers had a 16-7 edge in shots and a 1-0 lead, but it could have been worse.

Mike Hoffman scored with a great individual effort at 14:11. He skated in alone on Niemi’s blocker side, pulled the puck across the crease and tapped it home one-handed on the stick side. It was Hoffman’s 22nd of the season.

The Canadiens were fortunate to be down by only one goal. Hoffman turned a 2-on-2 rush into a breakaway for Juho Lammikko, but Niemi came up with the stop. Thirty-seconds after Hoffman scored, Evgenii Dadonov ripped a shot that went off a post. The light signalling a goal went on, but  the referee waved it off.  And Niemi capped off the period with good glove save on Frank Vatrano.

The Canadiens went on the power play as the first period ended and Weber tied the score when he connected on a one-timer at the 29-second mark of the second period. Jonathan Drouin, who is playing on top in the newest power-play configuration for Montreal, teed it up for Weber, who was outside the faceoff circle on the left side. It was Weber’s seventh goal of the season. The Canadiens had gone nine home games without a power-play goal.

Weber added an assist on Phillip Danault’s eighth goal of the season, which gave Montreal a 2-1 lead at 10:44. Weber’s slapshot went off the end boards and came out on the other side of the net. Danault grabbed the loose puck and he had his back to the net when he beat James Reimer with a backhander.

Max Domi had to put the puck in the net twice in the second period to end a 17-game goal drought. He scored on a goalmouth scramble at 13:23 after Reimer made a save on Artturi Lehkonen in the crease. Florida coach Bob Boughner challenged the goal and the folks in the situation room in Toronto ruled that Lehkonen prevented Reimer from playing his position and the goal was disallowed.

There was no question at 16:53 when Domi scored on a rebound for his 15th goal of the season  The goal,  which gave Montreal a 3-1 lead, was his first goal since Dec. 9.

Rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored his sixth goal of the season in the third period, while Brendan Gallagher put his 19th into an empty net.

Liveblog: Niemi spectacular in 5-1 win over Florida
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