SUNRISE, FLORIDA (TICKER) —A change of leagues did little to diminish Jason Ward’s offensive prowess.
Ward picked up an assist on Yanic Perreault’s first-period tally, then gave Montreal a three-goal cushion early in the second.
Recalled from Hamilton on Tuesday, Ward led the American Hockey League in scoring with 31 goals and 41 assists in 69 games.
“This time, I wasn’t nervous,” Ward said. “I came in knowing I could play. Before, I had always wondered to myself if I could play in the NHL, and (the AHL) was just one step below.”
“He was really dominating down in the minors,” Theodore said. “He’s the kind of guy that is going to work hard, finish his checks and bring a lot of energy. And he’s good around the net and can score goals.”
Niklas Sundstrom and rookie Marcel Hossa had the other goals for the Canadiens, who moved one point ahead of the New York Rangers into ninth place in the Eastern Conference. They are three points behind the New York Islanders for the final playoff spot.
“We’re back in the race,” Montreal coach Claude Julien declared. “We’re really just looking at small-term goals, which means tomorrow night is another big challenge for us. We seem to be a better hockey club when we keep it short and we keep it simple as far as our goals are concerned. If we can win tomorrow night, hopefully we’ll get even closer.”
“I believe anything can happen,” center Mike Ribeiro added. “We still have 11 games left. We had a bad streak of 10 games. Why can’t another team have a bad streak like that? We have to think about ourselves and put the focus on ourselves.”
Theodore made 32 saves for his second shutout of the season and first since November 7. The reigning Hart and Vezina Trophy winner stopped six shots in the first period, 12 in the second and 14 in the third.
Midway through the third, Theodore denied a point-blank redirection by Byron Ritchie to preserve his 17th career shutout.
“It seemed like every puck was hitting me in the chest, which is a good sign the way I play,” Theodore said. “A shutout is just a bonus for my teammates who play well. I think at this point of the year, it’s the win that we need.”
Perreault struck for his 21st goal 11:28 into the contest. Ward poked the puck to Perreault along the right boards, where he spun and caught Roberto Luongo off-guard by sending a wrist shot inside the right goalpost.
“It was very embarrassing,” said Luongo, who recorded a 3-0 win in Montreal last month. “I was looking in the slot for any guys open and as I was looking, he shot it at the net. It’s tough letting in a goal like that when it’s 0-0 in the first period. We were trying to stay positive, but when you let a goal in like that, it cuts the guys’ legs off a little bit.”
The Canadiens doubled their lead on Sundstrom’s tally 87 seconds into the second period before Ward registered his first NHL goal in more than three years.
Ward got a pass from Perreault at the top of the crease and poked his own rebound between Luongo’s pads.
Florida is winless in its last 10 home games (0-7-2-1) and has not scored in 150 minutes, 9 seconds at the Office Depot Center. The last time the Panthers were shut out in consecutive home games was January 12-16, 2002.
“We had our chances tonight as the game went on, but Jose played pretty well,” Florida rookie center Stephen Weiss said. “We were flat early on and it cost us. We gave up too many turnovers and too many odd-man rushes.”
Luongo made 27 saves but failed in a bid for his third straight win.