The Montreal Canadiens top line of Thomas Vanek, Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais continued their recent hot streak, and helped carry the Habs to their fifth straight win with a 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers last night.
Vanek opened the scoring midway through the first on a nice individual effort to get behind the Panthers defense. Panthers goaltender Dan Ellis stopped Vanek’s initial shot, but he drove right to the crease looking for a loose puck, and made no mistake firing it into the back of the net when he found it sitting between Ellis pads.
The goal was Vanek’s 6th as a Canadiens and his 11th point in 12 games with Montreal. Vanek has really heated up offensively in the past few games, scoring 6 points in his past 3 games, and 10 in his last 7.
Pacioretty would make it 2-0 before the opening period would close. With the Canadiens on the power play, Daniel Briere made a nice cross ice pass to Alexei Emelin who was streaking in at the back door. Emelin made a precise pass to Pacioretty who was sitting at the far post, and he just tapped it into the wide open cage.
Pacioretty set a career high with 34 goals, but was not done there as he stretched the Habs lead to 3-0 with his 35 goal of the season with six minutes to go in the second period.
The goal was made easy by some excellent playmaking skills by both of Pacioretty’s linemates. Vanek entered the zone and used some fancy between the legs stick work to buy time as he lacked support in the offensive zone. He quickly found Desharnais just inside the Panthers line and hit him with a beautiful pass from the corner. The slick center of the trio made no mistake in finding Pacioretty at the far post where he gathered the pass and tapped in his second of the night.
Pacioretty has been playing at a high level for most of the season, but his 21 points in his last 20 games show he is playing his best hockey of the year in the chase for the playoffs.
The Panthers got one back late in the second but Desharnais sealed the deal when he scored into an empty net with just 24 seconds to play. Pacioretty had a chance at a hat trick from center ice, but unselfishly dished it off the Desharnais who found the yawning cage from the Panthers blue line.
Not surprisingly, Desharnais has been on a hot streak the same length of time that Pacioretty has been. The playmaking pivot has 22 points in his last 20 games, including 15 assists.
Pacioretty finished the night with 2 goals and 1 assists, while both of his linemates had a goal and a helper. The trio combined for seven points on the night including scoring each Habs goal.
The recent addition of Thomas Vanek to the Canadiens lineup, and specifically to the Desharnais-Pacioretty line, gives the Habs a line that is capable of bringing enough offense on its own to win games, much like they did last night.
It had been a long time since the Montreal Canadiens had a first line that could score like this, and could make them very difficult to beat come playoff time.