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Panthers seek rebound effort versus Habs

Panthers forward Matt Bradley didn't like how his club started its game last night against one of the top teams in the conference.

Bradley and the rest of his Florida mates get an immediate chance to turn things around as they step right back in action tonight against the struggling Montreal Canadiens.

Playing the middle portion of a three-game homestand, the Panthers watched the Rangers score just 35 seconds into last night's meeting en route to a three- goal first period. New York would add another in the second frame before Bradley finally got the Panthers on the board with his second tally of the season.

It was too little, too late however as the Panthers were dealt their fourth loss in five games, a 4-1 setback. Florida's current skid has led to its lead atop the Southeast Division falling to just four points over Winnipeg and left Bradley scratching his head afterwards.

"Against a team like that, to go down four goals is almost impossible to come back," said Bradley. "There is absolutely no excuses for the way we started that game. It's embarrassing to do that.

"We really have to look at each other and at ourselves and figure out what went wrong tonight."

Scott Clemmensen got the start before getting pulled after allowing three goals on 14 shots. Jose Theodore made 10-of-11 saves the rest of the way.

The Panthers hope to get on track tonight against a Canadiens club that has lost six of its last seven games and is still trying to find its way under interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth.

Cunneyworth, who took over for a fired Jacques Martin on Dec. 17, got his first win on the bench Tuesday in Ottawa, but Montreal fell right back into the loss column with a 4-3 setback to Tampa Bay on Thursday.

The Canadiens owned a 3-1 lead in the second period thanks to goals from David Desharnais, Michael Cammalleri and Erik Cole, but the Lightning pressure finally got to Carey Price, who allowed four goals on 22 shots.

"We had some opportunities that we couldn't capitalize on," Cole said. "It's been like a broken record this year. We had a 3-1 lead and we wind up losing the hockey game. It continues to be a problem and we need to sort it out."

Canadiens rookie defenseman Rapahel Diaz continued to make plays from the blue line, recording two assists to give him five over the past two games. He'll look to keep up his playmaking in the finale of a season-long six-game road trip.

The Panthers snapped a three-game slide to the Canadiens with a 2-1 victory at Montreal on Oct. 24. The Habs have still taken two straight and six of the last eight encounters in Florida.

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