Big moves the Florida Panthers made ahead of the NHL trade deadline are already paying off.
Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot both picked up their first points as Panthers in a 4-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.
This season, the Panthers (43-14-6) mean business and they’ve made a statement in the home stretch ahead of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Adding big pieces like Giroux and Chiarot gave Florida’s locker-room a boost in confidence, said Anthony Duclair.
“It sends a clear message, for sure,” he said. “I think we earned it the way we’ve been playing all year and for management to get guys like Giroux, Chiarot and [Robert] Hagg just to boost our offence and our defence as well has been great.
“The guys are excited, you can tell. All week, the guys are buzzing out there with big smiles on their faces and it’s gonna be no different moving forward.”
Panthers coach Andrew Brunette was succinct in describing the new additions: “They’re great players.”
“(Giroux has) been a great player in this league for a long time,” he added. “(Chiarot), he’s a very great player in his own right on the front side of the puck. He showed it tonight. He had a lot of poise on six-on-four or five-on-four, blocking shots. Really steady and clear.”
Chiarot played his first game as a Panther at his former team’s home on Thursday. Montreal dealt the 30-year-old defenceman to Florida ahead of Monday’s trade deadline, but immigration paper work delayed Chiarot’s departure.
The blue liner said he did have to shake off some rust but is impressed with his new teammates.
“I’ve only been on the team for a morning skate and a game but it’s obvious the talent that’s on the team,” Chiarot said. “Easily the most skilled team I’ve been on and it shows. The plays they make are really incredible.”
The Panthers got a scare late in the game as the Canadiens attempted a comeback, scoring with the extra attacker with just over four minutes left in regulation.
The Stanley Cup contenders were able to keep the score to 4-3 but said they’ll need to improve on shutting down the opposition in the third period.
“I think that’ll be a big focus for us here in the next couple of weeks leading into playoffs is closing out games,” Chiarot said. “It’s so important come playoff time, you have to be able to do it or you’re not going to go very far.”
Duclair, Aleksander Barkov, Mason Marchment and Sam Reinhart scored for the Panthers.
Jonathan Huberdeau and Giroux each picked up two assists, and Chiarot added a single helper.
Nick Suzuki, Jake Evans and Paul Byron scored for the Canadiens (17-37-10).
“We played a really strong team tonight and I thought we fought really well,” said Montreal coach Martin St. Louis. “It was a good result, not the outcome we wanted but it was a fun one to coach.”
Spencer Knight made 28 saves for Florida and Montreal’s Jake Allen stopped 38-of-42 shots.
Both teams scored on their first shot of the game.
Suzuki made Florida pay for a Huberdeau roughing call with a power-play goal 29 seconds into the first period.
Barkov replied for the Panthers on the next play to tie the game at 1-1, with Giroux picking up his first point as a Panther on his first shift.
Florida took its first lead 1:12 into the second period when Corey Schuenemen tripped and left the puck for a wide open Marchment. The winger didn’t miss his opportunity to beat Allen.
Evans responded at 5:59 by redirecting a shot from the point by Alexander Romanov, bringing the score to 2-2.
Duclair put the Panthers back on top just 67 seconds later when he redirected a shot from Chiarot, a former Canadiens defenceman.
Florida took a two-goal lead on a third-period power play when Huberdeau sent a backhand pass to Reinhart who put a shot past Allen to notch his 24th goal of the season.
The Canadiens pulled their goalie with over five minutes left in regulation. Montreal’s gamble paid off when Byron scored from the crease to make it a one-goal game, but it was too little too late as the Habs could not force overtime.
Since full-capacity crowds were able to return, St. Louis and his team have received vocal support at the Bell Centre, despite lingering in last place in the Eastern Conference.
“I think they appreciate our effort, I think that they also appreciate our style of play,” the coach said of the crowd. “It’s rare that we get taken out of a game and for the players and the staff it’s great to have the fans’ support.”