MONTREAL (AP) — The Montreal Canadiens are hitting their stride at the right time.
Tomas Tatar had two goals and an assist to lead the Canadiens over the Florida Panthers 6-1 on Tuesday night to remain in playoff position.
Brett Kulak, Artturi Lehkonen, Phillip Danault and Max Domi also scored for the Canadiens (41-28-8), who have won four of five.
“It’s huge right now,” said Andrew Shaw, who had two assists. “It just shows we’re a character team. We’re working hard, we’re competing. We’re going to earn our own spot in the playoffs and not rely on someone winning or losing.”
Carey Price stopped 33 shots in his ninth consecutive start. Price has allowed 13 goals in his past eight games.
Frank Vatrano scored for the Panthers (33-32-12), who were officially eliminated from playoff contention.
James Reimer, who had not played in a month, was pulled in the first period after allowing three goals on nine shots. His replacement, Sam Montembeault, stopped 15 of 18 shots.
The Panthers dropped to 1-5-0 in their past six games.
Montreal is in a tight three-team playoff race with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Canadiens are in the second wild-card spot, one point behind Carolina and two points ahead of Columbus. Both the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes have a game in hand on Montreal.
“The last few weeks now, we’ve known the importance of every game,” Kulak said. “We’ve got a little momentum rolling here and it gives you a boost of energy when you can come out and score early and everyone’s feeling good like that.
“We’ve really settled into our identities as a team. Everyone knows their role and everyone’s playing their role really well. That just builds confidence.”
Tatar got things rolling at 6:58 of the first period when he beat Reimer with a shot off the post. The home team went up 2-0 via Kulak’s one-timer at 12:39.
Tatar added another for Montreal less than two minutes later when he shoveled a loose puck in the crease past Reimer, who mishandled Shea Weber‘s initial shot from the point.
Lehkonen and Danault added on in the second period. Tatar assisted on Danault’s goal for his 57th point of the season, setting a career high.
The Panthers have allowed 20 goals on their current three-game skid.
“Five of their six goals, we just let them have as much time and as much room as they wanted in front of our net,” said Florida’s Vincent Trochek. “It’s just laziness, not doing your job. It’s just unacceptable, leaving our goalies out to dry. To give up that many goals in the last three games is an absolute embarrassment.”
Vatrano scored on a power play early in the third to spoil Price’s shutout.
NOTES: Paul Byron left in the first period and did not return after being dropped to the ice in a fight with MacKenzie Weegar. Byron took an uppercut to the jaw before wobbling off the ice with the help of a trainer. The fight was retaliation for Byron hitting and concussing Weegar on Jan. 15. Weegar missed four games with the injury while Byron was suspended three games.
Panthers: Play at Ottawa on Thursday night.
Canadiens: Play at Columbus on Thursday night.