MONTREAL — Cole Caufield didn’t get the Montreal Canadiens there, he obtained them by means of.
When Caufield flashed into the slot and obtained the puck on his stick to an opportunity to attain the second aim of his NHL profession, his second extra time winner in as many video games, there was no hesitation. He ripped it into the highest nook of Jack Campbell’s internet and earned the Canadiens a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on the Bell Centre.
It was their third straight — all three of them by means of comeback — and a win that pulled them even in factors with the Winnipeg Jets within the North Division.
Each groups have 5 video games left, the Jets at the moment have the sting as a result of they’ve 21 regulation wins to Montreal’s 20, however it is a race due to a few younger Canadiens gamers who’ve made an enormous distinction on the most vital juncture of the common season.
Certainly one of them is Caufield — the five-foot-seven 20-year-old who was born to attain targets like the 2 he’s earned in 5 NHL video games. As teammate Phillip Danault put it after Monday’s win, “Cole’s very small, however he loves these huge moments.”
“That’s for positive,” Danault continued. “In extra time, he’s at all times there. We’ve seen for the reason that starting, severely, he’s obtained a hell of a freaking shot. Actually welcome addition, and on the proper time for our workforce.”
Caufield got here out of school in late March driving in on that Hobey Baker excessive, ripping three targets and an help in his solely two AHL video games with the Laval Rocket earlier than becoming a member of the Canadiens proper once they wanted him most.
Nick Suzuki, 21, has been right here for the reason that begin. He opened his sophomore season on a seven-game level streak, he had 12 factors over his first 13 video games, after which he hit a little bit of a wall.
Nicely, Suzuki has taken a sledgehammer to that brick. His first two assists in Monday’s sport obtained the Canadiens to extra time, and his third was notched earlier than he took a seat on Montreal’s bench and watched Caufield uncork the shot that received it.
With the efficiency, Suzuki unlocked his Schedule ‘A’ bonus, with 24 assists incomes him an additional $145,122. It additionally prolonged his level streak to 6 video games, over which he’s been in on 10 of the 16 targets the Canadiens have scored.
“I feel he took a step,” stated Danault. “I feel he discovered his sport—and located his sport each single sport, too. It’s not one each two video games. It’s onerous to get within the NHL, too. It’s the most important worth (when) you get your sport and also you keep regular evening after evening.
“I feel Nick is doing a fantastic job. And he desires to win, he desires to be the distinction maker, too, and he’s.”
It didn’t occur robotically. Suzuki rode by means of his struggles, saved his head up, saved it in perspective that he’s a younger participant who’s often going up in opposition to the most effective traces of the opposition and the most effective defencemen within the North, and he by no means allowed himself to get discouraged.
All alongside, the Canadiens teaching workers caught by him and let him discover his approach by means of.
“It was undoubtedly a studying curve,” stated Suzuki. “Final yr, I don’t wish to say I used to be a little bit sheltered, however not at all times going up in opposition to the highest traces. Now I feel I’m assured in going out and taking part in in opposition to whoever. Simply making an attempt to construct the belief from the teaching workers that they will put me on the market in necessary moments. I struggled a little bit bit throughout the center (portion) of the season, so simply needed to continue learning, preserve enhancing and simply construct my confidence in opposition to prime gamers on different groups.”
It’s there now, and there’s one thing to take from that in case you’re coach Dominique Ducharme.
He should present the identical confidence to 20-year-old Jesperi Kotkaniemi, whom he rightly benched with 9 minutes left within the third interval. He should present it to Alex Romanov, who had an excellent rougher first interval than Kotkaniemi and was moved from the primary defence pair to the third one within the second.
And Ducharme will, as a result of he is aware of each these gamers are as necessary to the Canadiens’ current as they’re to their future.
He’ll have a harder choice to make on Caufield as soon as Tomas Tatar, Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher are all ready to return from harm — assuming nobody else goes down between every now and then. As a result of, like Suzuki, Kotkaniemi and Romanov, Caufield could make a distinction now, however in contrast to them, he has solely performed a handful of video games at this degree and does require extra sheltering than the others.
That’s been apparent all through every of the Wisconsin native’s video games to date, and this one was no completely different.
However his game-breaking potential has shone by means of, as properly, and it’s extraordinarily tough to show away from.
What number of children can bounce into the NHL and never freeze up when the puck’s on their stick to an opportunity to win the sport? What number of hop on in opposition to John Tavares, William Nylander and T.J. Brodie and find yourself making the most effective play on the ice?
Not sufficient is the reply.
However the Canadiens have one — a child drafted fifteenth general in 2019 as a result of he’s a risk to attain on almost each probability he will get — and so they don’t have any others exterior of Tyler Toffoli, who notched his twenty eighth of the season to tie Monday’s sport 1-1 within the second interval.
They’ve gamers who can rating — Gallagher’s a two-time 30-goal man who had 14 in 35 video games earlier than he suffered a fractured proper thumb, Josh Anderson has 17 targets and Corey Perry and Tomas Tatar are veterans able to chipping in.
However Caufield’s a pure at it, and Ducharme is aware of this.
“He’s dealing with the conditions properly,” the coach stated. “He is aware of it’s an adaptation for him, however, like all different younger gamers, he’s getting by means of it. At 3-on-3, particularly with the house that’s on the ice, when he has an opportunity to get his shot off, he’s very harmful. Even within the first interval, he had a superb opportunity on the facility play (Caufield hit the put up). It’s his largest power — the pace and high quality of his shot, the power and precision of it — so these are two huge targets that he scored.”
It’s what Caufield has been doing ever since he started taking part in aggressive hockey.
“I feel he’s performed all of it ranges, clearly,” stated Suzuki. “It’s a giant second, taking part in in opposition to the Leafs. Again-to-back OT winners, and I used to be telling him I haven’t gotten one but. So, he’s obtained two targets up on me. That’s fairly superior for him and his confidence transferring ahead.”
Nothing ought to actually harm it, as a result of each second Caufield spends with the Canadiens proper now’s a bonus, and each sport he performs gives him a possibility to indicate the scenario received’t overwhelm him.
If Caufield continues to rise to the event, he’ll improve his probabilities of taking part in when it issues most.
“I feel you must really feel it (out) each sport, relying who you’re taking part in in opposition to and the matchups,” stated Ducharme. “You must weigh the form of evening that the child has, so it’s completely different conditions. It relies upon; you must be taking a look at these issues and making these selections on the proper occasions. It’s necessary for a younger participant to be put within the conditions the place they will succeed, so all these issues matter.”
We’ll see how they consider when the Canadiens must get by means of the playoffs, as a result of they’re a step nearer to creating them because of a few children.