Still Talkin’ Habs: Caufield arrives as Habs top Sens 3-2 in OT

Montreal Canadiens’ Cole Caufield scores against Ottawa Senators’ goaltender Filip Gustavsson during overtime NHL hockey action in Montreal, Saturday, May 1, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Welcome to the Caufield era.

Cole Caufield, the small forward with big talent, capped the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 come from behind OT win over the Ottawa Senators in a fairy tale finish that would have blown the roof off of the Bell Centre had it been filled on Saturday night.

“It’s always something you dream about as a kid but until it happens it’s pretty distant in the future, it’s not even in your mind,” grinned Caufield post-game. “But to have a moment like that is pretty unbelievable. It probably still hasn’t hit me yet. I haven’t even seen it. I don’t remember everything about it.”

Montreal Canadiens’ Cole Caufield (22) celebrates with teammate Jake Evans after scoring against the Ottawa Senators during overtime NHL hockey action in Montreal, Saturday, May 1, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Was that your reaction when Caufield tipped Jeff Petry’s backhand pass past Filip Gustavsson for an overtime win that all but guarantees their spot in the playoffs? Did you blackout in a combination of happiness and relief?

What a difference a week makes. Last Saturday night the Habs opened the door for the Calgary Flames as they lost for the second time in two nights. Seven days later and the shorthanded Canadiens rallied twice in 48 hours to slam that door shut for good, picking the perfect time to win their first back-to-back of the season.

"It's the best year of my life so far and I'm just going to keep growing from it."#GoHabsGo | @scotiahockey https://t.co/qLZziOnuWy

— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) May 2, 2021

The people who have followed Caufield’s career up to this point claim that he lives for the biggest moments. Considering the circumstances, his NHL career has started by reinforcing that point. The Habs are now just two points behind Winnipeg and eight points ahead of Calgary with just six games remaining in the regular season.

In the end, it was thanks to Caufield’s innate goal-scoring instincts that Canadiens fans can now sleep easy until mid-May.

On his game winner, there is clearly a lot of open ice in 3-on-3 overtime, but as Petry reloads in the neutral zone, Caufield makes the right read to drive to the net at the red line and then commits to getting to that space with speed.

It has been one of the things that has stood out over his first four games in the NHL. He is a decisive player. He doesn’t lack confidence and knows exactly who he is on the ice.

While Caufield will get the deserved headlines, it was a sophomore centreman who emerged for the second night in a row to lead the comeback for the Canadiens. Nick Suzuki is now riding a five-game points streak and has raised his game to another level at the most important part of the season. He responded to his equalizer being wiped off the board in the third with a fantastic backdoor saucer pass to Tyler Toffoli for his 28th of the season just minutes later.

“I think the last couple weeks I’ve found a better game,” said Suzuki when asked about his recent play. “Dom’s really been on me to bring that competitive edge every game and I think I’ve been bringing that lately.”

Suzuki seems to be playing with a level of inspiration we haven’t seen since early in the season. He and Petry in particular look as though they are peaking at just the right time. Ditto for Jake Evans and Artturi Lehkonen.

If more of the team continue to follow their lead and the Habs use these next two weeks to get their injured players healthy, the Canadiens could be a difficult proposition for either the Oilers or the Maple Leafs in the first round.

Defenceman Ben Chiarot spoke yesterday about their multiple comebacks against the Jets being a potentially valuable “lesson” going forward. Less than 24 hours later and he and his teammates were erasing another two-goal deficit, this time in the third period.

Interim head coach Dominique Ducharme said just last week that his team appeared “fragile”. If you combine those comments with the tension amongst the players being broken by these two latest victories, the Canadiens have the opportunity to be in just the right mental head space to close out their season and move into the playoffs.

The Habs now have an opportunity on Monday night to lay down a marker against their potential opponent in the playoffs: the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens are coming off their first consecutive victories since the start of the month. If they were to record their third three-game winning streak of the season, it would do a world of good to restoring the confidence of this team.

The goal for the Habs this season was to get into the playoffs. Their new goal to close out the season is to reach their peak at the right time. So, who do you want Canadiens fans? The Leafs or the Oilers? It’s just under three weeks away.

Player Ratings

Goaltender

Cayden Primeau – 6/10

His second game of the season wasn’t as solid as his first. Struggled mightily with rebound control the first 40 minutes. Very lucky in the first as the Sens missed multiple chances and hit multiple posts. Made a couple key saves in the third though, most notably his right shoulder save on Stutzle on a partial breakaway. A win is a win.

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Cayden Primeau makes a save against Ottawa Senators’ Michael Amadio during first period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Saturday, May 1, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Defencemen

Jeff Petry – 8/10

Was a significant factor in all three of the Habs goals. Held the puck in at the blueline in the build-up to Toffoli’s equalizer. His goal was a sneaky little bit of skill that got Brannstrom to bite and part the seas for him. Then took advantage of a tired Tkachuk to walk around him and deliver a perfect backhand pass to Caufield for the winner. Always seems to elevate his game when Weber is out of the lineup.

Joel Edmundson – 7/10

Like everyone, got caught out once or twice in the first period. Did well clearing the front of the net on the penalty kill. Went up against Tkachuk’s line and kept them relatively quiet all night long. In fact, Tkachuk was a non-factor. His pairing rarely got hemmed in their own zone. Was even willing to jump into the attack at times.

Ben Chiarot – 7/10

Not nearly as willing to drive play into the Sens zone like he was against Winnipeg last night. But his skating continues to be the best it’s been since his injury. Led the blueline with three blocks and tied for the lead with four shots on goal. Got caught out in the neutral zone a couple times in the first. Settled down the rest of the way. Stayed aggressive at the blueline and made smart decisions with the puck on his stick. Looks more and more like he did last season.

Alexander Romanov – 7/10

Has he never seen an NHL fight before? You’ve got to take your gloves off, son. Let the Sens get in behind him too many times in the first period. Best passer on the back end by quite a margin. Maybe could have got out to cover Stutzle quicker on his goal. Not as overtly physical as he has been. Continues to grow on the power play by keeping his passing simple.

Brett Kulak – 6/10

Didn’t play much in the third but brought some much-needed speed on the back end to either get out of trouble or drive play forward. His pairing got caught out far too many times in the first period. Still like the idea of him being in the lineup ahead of Gustafsson.

Jon Merrill – 5/10

Really the only Habs player who struggled significantly last night. Was constantly getting backed into his own zone or getting beat off the rush. His skating was a real struggle compared to most of his other defencemen. Least used Habs blueliner as it should have been.

Forwards

Nick Suzuki – 8/10

Just keeps on bringing it. Most impressive was going 73 per cent in the faceoff dot, including come important defensive zone draws. Faster, stronger, more combative. Had his equalizer cancelled out due to goaltender interference. Fantastic pass to Toffoli for the game tying goal in the third. Most used Habs forward and played well on both the power play and the penalty kill.

Joel Armia – 7/10

Was the Habs best forward in the first period as he protected the puck very well in the offensive zone. Continued his strong play in the second, including an outrageous pass to Toffoli in tight which was stopped by Gustavsson. Other players elevated their play more in the third but still kept competing. As always was a handful down low.

Tyler Toffoli – 8/10

What more can be said about this guy? Led the team with six shots on goal, including a few glorious chances in the second period. Ridiculous hand-eye coordination to knock the puck out of mid-air in the build-up to Suzuki’s disallowed goal. Was the decoy for Petry on his goal. Clinical finish to tie things up in the second off an unreal pass from Suzuki. 28 goals. Ridiculous.

Phillip Danault – 6/10

Solid once again down the middle in disrupting the Senators attacks in the neutral zone. Did well backing up pinching defencemen and forwards out of position. Forechecked well but didn’t do much other than cycle the puck in the offensive zone. Continued to do good work on the penalty kill. His line did well early but faded as the game wore on.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi – 6/10

Was very physical in the early going. But couldn’t sustain much of anything offensively. The experiment on the wing has been pretty up and down so far. On the periphery on the power play. Needed to be more involved.

Josh Anderson – 7/10

More noticeable than last night. Had five shots on goal and should have scored the go-ahead goal in regulation when he rang it off the post from right in the slot. His speed wasn’t as noticeable as it has been of late but still put pressure on the Senators both on the forecheck and backcheck. Still searching for his role on the power play.

Jake Evans – 7/10

Says everything about where his game is at right now that he was out there to win an offensive zone faceoff in the final minute of regulation. Had a great shot off the rush stopped by Gustavsson on a 2-on-1. His speed continues to standout. It was he who cut off the pass by the Sens inside the Habs zone in overtime and gave the puck back to his team for the last time. His game has been the most pleasant surprise this month.

Cole Caufield – 7/10

Made some questionable decisions near the blueline in his zone that nearly cost his team more than once. Continues to defer on the power play. His confidence improved as the game went on and probably should have scored off a tricky, spinning shot that nearly snuck by the Ottawa goaltender. Didn’t play the final eight minutes of regulation. Then goes out there in overtime and wins the game with his first ever NHL goal. His enthusiasm seems to be contagious.

Artturi Lehkonen – 6/10

Wasn’t nearly as involved offensively as against the Jets. But led the forwards with five hits and continued to be aggressive. Wasn’t all that noticeable for long stretches but did his job.

Eric Staal – 6/10

Robbed at the end of the first by Gustavsson’s left pad. His skating has improved noticeably over the past week. Should have at least got an assist after a nice set up for Anderson in the slot but he rang it off the iron. Is doing more of the same things down low and along the boards that Corey Perry does.

Corey Perry – 6/10

Unlucky to be called for incidental contact on Gustavsson on Suzuki’s would-be equalizer. Did well on the cycle. Great touch pass to Suzuki to give him space to find Toffoli on the real game-tying goal.

Michael Frolik – 6/10

Continues to look like he’s settling in well in his role on the fourth line. Hardly anything offensively but did enjoy some solid zone time. His stride looked noticeably better. Least used Habs forward.

Coach

Dominique Ducharme – 8/10

His decisions in the third essentially won the team the game. Shortened his bench halfway through the period and was rewarded with the equalizer on the power play. His team owned the Senators the final 10 minutes of the game. Then makes the decision to play Caufield despite keeping him on the bench the majority of the third and was rewarded with the game-winning goal. Power play continues to look more fluid. His team seems to be rounding a corner right now. It will be his job to manage these remaining six games to get his team to hit their peak once the playoffs start.

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