SUNRISE, Fla. - With his team already atop the Eastern Conference standings, Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien told his team it could make a good five-game road trip exceptional with one final win before heading home.
Despite playing for the second consecutive night, Montreal looked fresh, jumping out to an early lead and cruising to a 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers Sunday night in front of 19,189 at the BB&T Center.
"Since the beginning of the game, we were dictating the game, pushing the pace," Therrien said. "We were tough to play against with the decisions we took with the puck. I was really impressed. ... I think that type of trip saw the team spirit that was really good and the way we got success on the road is good for their confidence."
Florida (7-13-6), meanwhile, fell to 1-11-4 when its opponent scores first. The Panthers were outshot 13-7 in the period and 38-17 overall.
The Canadiens (17-5-4) struck quickly on center David Desharnais' eighth goal of the season just 1:46 into the game.
Defenseman Alexei Emelin handled the puck behind the Montreal net and found Desharnais, who skated into the Florida zone. His slap shot beat Jacob Markstrom's glove side. Right winger Brendan Gallagher also earned an assist.
Less than seven minutes later, the Canadiens extended their lead to 2-0 with 13 seconds remaining on a power play, thanks to a center Marcel Goc's interference penalty.
Right winger Michael Ryder scored the 100th goal of his Montreal career -- his seventh of the season -- by redirecting defenseman P.K. Subban's shot from in front of the blue line. Center Tomas Plekanec also recorded an assist.
"It took me awhile to get adjusted," said Ryder, who was acquired in a trade from Dallas last month. "It feels like I've been on the road for a long time right now. ... I got to know the guys a lot more and feel comfortable and get used to the system and feeling a lot more comfortable on the ice."
With 4:25 left in the second period, right winger Brian Gionta redirected a slap shot by Suppan that Markstrom made the initial save on. The rebound, however, bounced right back to Gionta, whose follow-up trickled past the goalie for a 3-0 lead.
Gionta now has six points, including five goals, in his last six games. He has nine goals on the season.
Two minutes later, defenseman Francis Bouillon scored his first of the season on a quick transition. Gionta intercepted center Jonathan Huberdeau's pass from behind the Montreal net and broke through for a two-on-two.
Following his pass to Ryder on the right side of the Florida zone, Ryder found Bouillon skating down the middle for an easy set-up.
Twice in the second period the Panthers couldn't capitalize on opportunities.
At 9:11 on a two-on-two, center Peter Mueller's shot rebounded to center Drew Shore, who couldn't get another shot off. With five minutes remaining, Huberdeau fed Mueller in front of the net, but Peter Budaj made the save.
Right winger Tomas Kopecky erased the shutout 7:59 into the third period.
After the Canadiens failed to clear the puck from their zone, Kopecky gathered it, turned around and shot from in front of the blue line. The rebound went off Bouillon's stick and ended up top shelf.
Kopecky has 10 points in his last 13 games (8-2-10).
The Panthers trimmed the deficit in half on center Shawn Matthias' snap shot that beat Budaj's glove side with 6:03 remaining in the game. Jack Skille assisted Matthias' seventh of the season on a rush.
"It's unacceptable," said Matthias, who has a four-game points streak. "Been through this before. It's not fun. I'm sick of losing, sick of being down. It's wearing on you. We need to change things and turn this ship around. It's too frustrating. It's gone on long enough."
Ryder capped the scoring with a power-play goal less than two minutes later, once again deflecting Subban's slap shot. Defenseman Andrei Markov collected the other assist. He has a pair of goals and seven assists in seven games during his second stint with the Canadiens.
Entering Sunday's game, Florida held an NHL-worst 73.8 percent penalty kill.
"That was a big part of the game was special teams," Panther coach Kevin Dineen said. "We have to do a better job on composure."
Montreal closed out its five-game road swing 4-1-0 and improved to 9-2-2 away from the Bell Centre this season. Florida has dropped six of seven as it remains last in the Eastern Conference. Last year, the Canadiens finished last, while the Panthers ended a decade-long playoff drought.
For the first time since the franchise's inception in 1993, the Panthers did not beat the Canadiens in a season. Montreal won all three of this year's meetings after losing each last season.
"Every year's different," Subban said. "The one thing I learned about the NHL is momentum doesn't carry from season to season. It's built from Game 1 to the last game of the season. We've generated a lot of momentum for our team and hockey club. It's up to us to continue to do that."
NOTES: Panthers right winger Jon Rheault, who made his NHL debut on Tuesday night against the Jets, was reassigned to AHL's San Antonio Rampage. Jerred Smithson was recalled in his place. ... Canadiens left winger Brandon Prust suffered a minor shoulder separation in Saturday's win over the Lightning and will miss 10 days. That snaps his streak of 223 consecutive games played. ... Gionta took part in his 200th career game with Montreal. ... Up next, the Canadiens return home following a season-long five-game road trip to face the Senators Wednesday night. ... The Panthers conclude their three-game homestand by hosting the Lightning on Tuesday night.