Still Talkin’ Habs: Caufield the hero again as Habs beat the Leafs 3-2 in overtime

Players from the Montreal Canadiens celebrate Cole Caufield’s goal, not shown, during overtime NHL hockey action against the Toronto Maple Leafs, in Montreal, Monday, May 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

This is where expectations meet reality, right?

Once again, the Montreal Canadiens came from behind in the third period and once again, it was rookie forward Cole Caufield who capped the comeback in overtime for the second straight game to beat the division leading Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2.

En rappel: Cole Caufield a joué les héros pour un deuxième match de suite.

VOIR ➡️ https://t.co/L9B5aKAHMY#GoHabsGo

— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) May 4, 2021

The reality of the situation is that Caufield’s first five games in the NHL have coincided with his team winning four of those games, the last three in particularly spirited fashion. Besides being the team’s most consistently dangerous forward last night, the rookie had ice in his veins with his head up all the way to on his game-winner. With a flick of a wrist and a ping off the left post, Caufield became the first player in NHL history to score an OT goal in back-to-back games for his first two career goals, per Stats by Stats.

So, about those expectations right now? They’ve flown past sky-high, up into the stratosphere.

Perhaps that’s why Caufield did his post-game media Zoom session with the equally sensational Nick Suzuki. The veteran sophomore centreman standing at the podium while the young newly-dubbed Bilbo (Baggins in case your nerd knowledge level is low) comically sat at a desk next to him. Probably to bring levity to the absurd buzz that the kid has brought to a locked down city that will reach crescendo levels through the final five games of the season into the playoffs.

He didn’t do it alone, of course.

The holy trinity of Suzuki, Tyler Toffoli and Jeff Petry, the secret to the Habs' success this season, were integral to the cause. Phillip Danault chipped in with the game-tying goal in the final minute of the third period after the Canadiens pushed the North Division’s best team to the brink.

Jake Allen made crucial saves to keep the Maple Leafs from scoring the back-breaker. Ben Chiarot continued his fine play of late. But the headlines will go to Caufield again and rightly so.

Just look at the Leafs. Auston Matthews has earned all of the plaudits as the league’s top goal-scorer, scoring his 39th of the year. But under the radar, Mitch Marner is having an equally sensational season, sitting in third on the NHL’s point-scoring list, but it is Matthews who is deservedly the talk of the town.

It is something the Canadiens organization and their fans have been crying out for for three decades. An elite offensive player with game-breaking abilities. A guy who needs only a split second of freedom to make the difference. Toffoli has proven that he is a natural goal-scorer, but his talent doesn’t look nearly as effortless as the young American’s.

Caufield stood out particularly on the power play and it was on special teams that last night’s game was decided.

Suzuki found Toffoli with a cross-ice pass that fooled everyone to bring the Habs level, but, more importantly, the man-advantage continued to be the momentum builder it has been of late. On the flip side, the Canadiens penalty killers kept the threatening Leafs off the board through a combination of aggression, desperation and awareness, particularly after surrendering back-to-back power plays early in the second period. Interim head coach Dominique Ducharme has something cooking on special teams and he should be cautious about how he tinkers with both units when his captain Shea Weber returns to the lineup.

The puck possession strategy in overtime paid off too, well before Caufield ended the game in the final minute of the extra period.

Ducharme mentioned on Saturday night how it had taken his players some time before they learned how to perfect the game plan. The benefits couldn’t have been more apparent than against the Leafs. While Marner and Matthews did get a 2-on-0 later in OT, it was their only real touch of the puck after chasing the Habs around in the neutral zone their previous shifts. The Canadiens made the right reads with all that open ice and when they did give up the puck, they were quick to close on the Leafs and get it back.

With the win and the Jets regulation loss to the Senators, the Habs are now tied on points with Winnipeg for third spot in the division. They will play either Toronto or Edmonton in the first round of the playoffs.

With four of their remaining five games against both the Leafs and the Oilers, the team can continue to plant seeds of doubt in their potential opponents’ minds. Confidence is as high for the group as it has been since early February and we all know that playoff success is all about playing your best at the right time of year.

Last week, the heat was on. Now, the peak is on.  

Player Ratings

Goaltender

Jake Allen – 8/10

Could have used Weber to clear the front of the net on both of Toronto’s goals. Two huge saves on Kerfoot, one with the left pad in tight and another on a 2-on-1 rush. Breakaway saves on both Marner and Nylander to keep the game close. Stopped a deflected shot off Edmundson labeled for the back of the net for good measure. More of what we’ve come to expect from him.

Defencemen

Jeff Petry – 8/10

As he goes, so goes the team. Controlled the pace of the game expertly in overtime. Best of his three assists was his pass to Caufield in the slot for his game-winner. Picked up secondary assists on Toffoli and Danault’s goals. Didn’t allow much against when he was out there either. Really good at running his wave of the power play as well. The power of the stache continues.

Joel Edmundson – 7/10

Stood out on the penalty kill. Did well to get his body and stick in the way of some attempted passes and shots. Kept it very simple and deferred to Petry when it came to moving the puck at even strength. Could have done better tying up Matthews in front of the net on his tipped goal but you can chalk that down to ridiculous skill by the Leafs forward more than his defensive failings.

Ben Chiarot – 8/10

Was bold in supporting the offence as the Habs trailed late on. Robbed by Campbell on a point blank shot off a great cross-ice transition pass from Artturi Lehkonen. Did a great job limiting Matthews time and space on the penalty kill. Trusted by his coach in overtime and did well coping with the extra open ice. His passing was decent but did lead the team in giveaways with five. Continued his strong recent play.

Alexander Romanov – 4/10

Led the blueline in hits with five and moved the puck well on the power play, but had a nightmare of a game at 5-on-5. His decision making with the puck was way off. His turnover in the corner and inexplicable screening of Allen was the reason the Leafs were up 1-0. Personally responsible for both of the Leafs breakways with poor puck management at the blueline. Justly demoted and held to less than 14 minutes of ice time. An off night that somehow didn’t cost his team.

Brett Kulak – 6/10

Made some desperate defensive plays in his own zone to cancel out some potential Leafs chances. Did well moving the puck out of his own zone with either a pass or his legs. No egregious turnovers. Played the game relatively safe as he didn’t go on his regular forays into the opposition zone. But solid again as he tries to nail down a regular spot when Weber returns.

Jon Merrill – 6/10

Stepped up on the penalty kill as Romanov faltered. Got run over a few times in his own end but kept on trudging along. Played the least on the blueline but didn’t hurt his team when he was out there. Very safe and effective in his role.

Forwards

Nick Suzuki – 8/10

He’s putting this team on his back offensively. Slithered dangerously on the power play and found Toffoli with a terrific seam pass for his goal. His speed has really picked up the last two weeks. Doing a much better job shielding the puck in the offensive zone. Another primary assist on Danault’s game-tying goal in the final minute of regulation. Not great in the faceoff dot but drove play for his team every time he was out there.

Tyler Toffoli – 8/10

Even on a wide-open net he can’t help but go bar down. Set up beautifully by Suzuki for his 28th of the season. Had a couple more half chances that he couldn’t convert. Kept the pressure on the Leafs defencemen in their zone and was an effective forechecker despite his lack of foot speed. Third in the league in goals behind Matthews and McDavid. Simply ridiculous.

Joel Armia – 7/10

Did all of the dirty work for Toffoli and Suzuki offensively, boxing out Toronto defenders and keeping hold of the puck with superior body positioning. Did a good job winning board battles and maintaining possession on the power play. Aggressive on the penalty kill. Had some decent moments but no point-blank chances.

Phillip Danault – 7/10

Most used Habs forward. Did a good job limiting Matthews at even-strength. At this point if you hold him to only one goal you’ve done a good job. Was the Habs best forward on the penalty kill. Did very little offensively. As frustrating as it is to watch him struggle to generate offense, you can’t help but feel good when he does score. Jam play at the side of the net for the crucial goal to send it to overtime. Kept possession in overtime.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi – 6/10

Really physical to start the game. He and his linemates couldn’t get much going at 5-on-5. But he used his shot to great effect on the power play, getting robbed once by Campbell’s glove. His heavy shot to Campbell’s blocker side nearly ended up in an Anderson goal but the Toronto netminder somehow kept it out. Faded down the stretch.

Josh Anderson – 6/10

Seriously, how did Campbell keep his rebound chance out. He was playing against the Leafs so of course he brought the physicality, leading the team with six hits. But other than that one chance didn’t accomplish much over the first three periods other than keeping back pressure on the Leafs top players. His size and speed allowed him to keep valuable possession in overtime.

Jake Evans – 6/10

Like Suzuki not sure where his extra gear has come from the latter part of the season but It has been very noticeable. Brings that Gallagher-like effort to each one of his shifts. Shined on the penalty kill where his pass to Lehkonen on a 2-on-1 was stopped by Campbell. Needs to be more selfish at times and just shoot the puck.

Artturi Lehkonen – 7/10

Should have scored his third shorthanded goal of the year but the combination of his shot into the middle of the net and a sprawling Campbell led to that not happening. Terrific pass to Staal for a high danger shot in the slot. Another fantastic cross-ice pass to Chiarot led to an even better save by Campbell. Tireless.

Cole Caufield – 8/10

All it took was one goal for him to trust his role on the team. Didn’t try to do anything unnatural to get the puck to more veteran players. Single-minded in his game. Rang a ridiculous shot off the crossbar on the power play early. His speed on the forecheck was disruptive. Was dangerous every time the puck was on his stick. Fantastic snipe for his second straight game winner. Kid is a star.

Eric Staal – 6/10

Continues to look more settled. Worked hard to disrupt the Leafs breakout along the boards. Was shaking his head for several minutes after he somehow didn’t score off a beautiful slot setup by Lehkonen. 88 percent on faceoffs. Should make last night the blueprint for his game the rest of the way. Keep it simple.

Corey Perry – 5/10

Saw him in front of the net a bunch. No real surprise there. Had a little more jump on his skates last night. But no real opportunities. Was waiting to pounce on a rebound on the power play that never came.

Michael Frolik – 5/10

Had three shots on goal. Don’t really remember them. Do remember his back pressure on the Leafs while they headed up ice. Played less than 10 minutes. Hard to be noticeable playing that little.

Coach

Dominique Ducharme – 8/10

Thought he had a really good feel for the game, especially when he adjusted his lines in the third. His team didn’t miss a beat and kept the pressure up on the Leafs until they eventually broke. Power play and penalty kill won the special teams battle. His overtime strategy worked to perfection. Had to re-organize his defensive pairings as Romanov really struggled. The blueline didn’t seem to miss a beat. A fine night at the office for the coach.

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