MONTREAL - Head coach Michel Therrien called Carey Price his "closer," referring to a baseball pitcher whose job it is to preserve a slim advantage late in the game and secure a win.
With the Canadiens leading by one to start the third period, Price turned away 16 shots by the Panthers in the final frame to give Montreal a 2-1 victory over Florida on Monday night.
The Panthers (16-21-6) outshot Montreal 16-10 in the final frame, but were repeatedly frustrated by Price, who made 26 saves on the night.
"The Panthers gave a big push in the third," said Therrien. "Again, Carey Price was solid. He shut the door. There was no way in his mind the Panthers would score another against him. I really liked his reaction.
"He played really well. He was like a closer in baseball."
Price frustrated 11 different Panthers players in the third period, including four shots by Sean Bergenheim, who was Florida's lone scorer on the night.
"We relied on him a little more than we would have liked to in the third," said Brendan Gallagher of Price's 16-save period. "But he's done that all year. He's there for us when we need him."
Before the barrage of shots in final period, the Canadiens (25-14-5) took the lead for good at 15:46 of the second when captain Brian Gionta beat Tim Thomas in the roof of the net.
Panthers captain Ed Jovanovski started the play by giving the puck away softly behind the Florida net to Tomas Plekanec, who fed a wide-open Gionta for his seventh goal of the year.
Jovanovski was back in the Panthers' lineup after undergoing hip surgery last April. He made his season debut on Saturday in a win over the Nashville Predators.
"It's his second game since March," said Florida head coach Peter Horachek about Jovanovski, who missed 83 games with the injury. "It's late in the game, he fanned on the pass. That stuff is going to happen sometimes.
"I think he's done a good job for the amount of time he's been out. It's a process. I think he would like to have (that pass) back."
Montreal opened the score at 6:23 of the first period on the team's first shot on net.
David Desharnais took a pass from Max Pacioretty while crossing the blue-line to start the play, fanned on the initial shot, but recovered to score his sixth goal of the year, on the backhand.
The fan on the first shot forced Thomas out of position for the second.
"I tried staying with the puck, to get any kind of shot I could," said Desharnais. "Usually the goaltender will be well positioned there. He was a little off. I know he wasn't where he was supposed to be. I tried bringing it back on my backhand, and (Thomas) was already on the ground."
Montreal gained momentum after the goal, outshooting Florida 9-0 over the next 10 minutes.
But it was the Panthers that equalized against the run of play. Bergenheim beat Price at 17:09 with a backhand goal similar to Desharnais's earlier shot.
Rookie Aleksander Barkov had an assist on the goal, his team-leading 15th of the year, to extend his point streak to six games — the longest point streak by a rookie in Panthers history.
Bergenheim almost gave the Panthers the lead a minute later, but his shot rang off the crossbar.
The win was Montreal's first against Florida this season. The Panthers beat the Habs twice last month — a 4-1 victory in Florida, and a 2-1 win at the Bell Centre.
"We generated a lot of chances, but nothing went in," said Tomas Fleischmann. "We won our last two games against them, and we felt that we could get the points tonight too.
"Tonight they were fresh, and you could feel they were a different team than before. We expected that. But it took us a little longer to get adjusted to it. We felt like we could get the points tonight."
The Panthers and Canadiens meet for the fourth and final time this season on March 29 in Sunrise, Fla.
Notes: Ryan White missed the game due to an upper-body injury sustained on Thursday against the Dallas Stars. He is expected to be out two weeks. … Pacioretty finished the game with nine shots on net. … Hockey Canada will announce its Olympic roster on Tuesday. Montreal's Price and defenceman P.K. Subban are expected to make the cut. … The Canadiens head to Philadelphia to face the Flyers on Wednesday.