Gionta scores twice as Canadiens' end 3-game skid

MONTREAL (AP) — Brian Gionta scored twice — including Montreal's second empty-net goal — and Jaroslav Halak came within 3:36 of recording a shutout, leading the Canadiens to a 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.

Pouliot scored an unassisted effort for his 17th goal 12:40 in. Gionta made it a two-goal lead later in the period with his 24th goal.

Halak, who made 23 saves, lost his bid for a shutout when Radek Dvorak scored 16:24 into the third to draw Florida within 2-1.

Tomas Plekanec scored his 100th goal into an empty net at 18:36 to restore the two-goal margin at 3-1. Gionta added his second of the game with Panther goalie Tomas Vokoun pulled once again to make it a three-goal lead.

Montreal blew a 2-0 lead one night earlier in Buffalo when Carey Price allowed two goals late in the third. The Canadiens went on to lose 3-2 to the Sabres in a shootout to extend their losing skid to 0-1-2 in the wake of a season-high six-game winning streak.

The Canadiens, sixth overall in the Eastern Conference with 82 points, moved within one point of fifth-place Ottawa.

Vokoun stopped 27 shots for Florida, which had won two in a row. The Panthers slipped to 12th place in the East with 71 points, one behind Tampa Bay, which won 5-3 in Boston.

Florida left wing David Booth left early in the second period after he was flattened by Jaroslav Spacek's open-ice shoulder check to the head.

A Panthers spokesman said Booth was taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons after being examined by Canadiens physician Dr. David Mulder, who said Booth was alert and coherent.

Travis Moen was wearing a visor on his helmet as he returned to Montreal's lineup after missing the Canadiens' 3-2 shootout loss in Buffalo on Wednesday night. Moen needed 50 stitches to close a horrific gash that ran from his left eyelid and up along his forehead after he was cut by Ottawa forward Matt Cullen's skate in Monday night's 2-0 loss to the Senators.

Pouliot intercepted Dvorak's attempted pass to Bryan Allen and moved to the slot, where he put a backhand past Vokoun.

Gionta drove a blast through Vokoun from the right side at 16:38 for his 24th goal to make it 2-0.

Spacek delivered his devastating check on Booth head-on 1:10 into the second and no penalty was called on the play.

Booth, who missed 45 games earlier this season after he sustained a concussion on a blindside hit by Philadelphia's Mike Richards on Oct. 24, lay face down on the ice after the hit and trainer Dave Zenobi was immediately summoned to attend to him. A bloodstain remained on the ice after Booth was helped off the ice to the dressing room.

Earlier Thursday, the executive board of the players' union voted to accept a new temporary rule that will ban hits to the head against unsuspecting players. The decision took effect immediately, starting with the 11 games Thursday night.

NOTES: Booth had scored four goals in his four previous games. He has eight goals and 16 points in 28 games this season. ... C Glen Metropolit and LW Mathieu Darche were healthy scratches for Montreal.