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29-20-12

Canadiens-Panthers Preview

AP - Sports

As recently as two weeks ago, the Montreal Canadiens looked poised to make a late-season playoff push. They've since dropped to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

The Canadiens look to avoid a sixth loss in seven games Sunday when they visit the Florida Panthers, who have already started to reap the benefits from a recent trade.

Montreal (24-28-10) won four in a row Feb. 5-11 but has been outscored 21-11 while going 1-4-1 since then to drop into the East's cellar. The Canadiens dropped their third straight Friday, falling 4-1 at Washington while going 0 for 4 on the power play for the second straight game. Two of those power plays were cut short after Montreal got called for a penalty of its own.

"We have to work on being more disciplined. We had a few chances where we could have taken advantage of our power plays but instead we took penalties of our own. It always seemed to happen at the toughest times," coach Randy Cunneyworth told the team's official website.

"I'd also like to see us being a little more consistently physical out there. We should be finishing more of our checks. I'd like us to be harder on our opponents."

The Canadiens haven't been very hard on the Panthers (28-20-12) this season, losing both meetings. They could be in for another loss Sunday if Florida proves to be back on track.

The Panthers snapped an 0-3-1 skid and reclaimed the Southeast Division lead with Saturday's 3-2 shootout win at Carolina. Florida overcame a two-goal deficit, ultimately tying the game on newly-acquired Wojtek Wolski's tally with less than two minutes remaining.

The Panthers obtained Wolski earlier Saturday from the New York Rangers in exchange for minor league defenseman Mike Vernace and a third-round pick in next season's draft.

"I was trying to feel (Wolski) into the game there," coach Kevin Dineen said. "He's a valuable asset. He has a skill set we were looking for right now, and obviously it paid off for us. There's no better way to introduce yourself to your teammates than to go out and score a big goal."

It was also the first goal of the season for Wolski, who had been limited to nine games for the Rangers after missing more than two months due to a sports hernia.

Jose Theodore made 26 saves in Saturday's win, improving to 2-2-1 with a 1.56 goals-against average in five starts since returning from a knee injury Feb. 12.

Theodore, who spent the first eight-plus seasons of his career with the Canadiens, is 2-2-1 with a 4.62 GAA - his highest against any opponent - versus his former team.

Montreal is expected to give a start to backup Peter Budaj, who is 0-3-1 with a 3.71 GAA over his last four road games. He's surrendered two goals in each of his two career starts versus the Panthers, losing both - including a 2-1 home loss Oct. 24.

"I always prepare myself well, physically and mentally so I'm ready whenever the coaches tell you to go in," Budaj said. "Now I'm just looking forward to (Sunday)."

It's unknown if Florida will have John Madden or Marcel Goc available. Both centers have been sidelined for at least a week with lower-body injuries.

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