About Last Night: Suzuki and Caufield enliven dull regular-season finale

The Montreal Canadiens lost their final game of the regular season in overtime 4-3 against the Edmonton Oilers Wednesday at the Bell Centre.

Author of the article:

Erik Leijon  •  Special to Montreal Gazette

Publishing date:

May 13, 2021  •  1 day ago  •  3 minute read  •  31 Comments

Cole Caufield has the puck poked away from him by Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith during third-period action in Montreal on Wednesday, May 12, 2021.
Cole Caufield has the puck poked away from him by Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith during third-period action in Montreal on Wednesday, May 12, 2021. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette

The Montreal Canadiens lost their final game of the regular season 4-3 in overtime to the Edmonton Oilers at the Bell Centre Wednesday, but as with the playoff spot clincher on Monday, the team may have received some important intel in the process: Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield form a dynamic duo. Playing on a line together for the first time, Suzuki had two goals, while Caufield had a goal and his first NHL assist.

Otherwise, game 56 was an anticlimactic finale since both teams entered locked into their respective playoff positions. It was more about conserving strength for the playoffs, which are expected to begin next Wednesday for the North Division. A number of regulars got the evening off: Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli, Eric Staal, Joel Edmundson, Jeff Petry and Jake Allen were all scratched, leaving Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi as the only Habs to play every game. The Oilers backed off in their own way: although Connor McDavid dressed, he only played 15: 12 compared with his usual 20+. Despite the reduced minutes, McDavid added two assists to his otherworldly season totals.

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Without the regulars, Michael Frolik, Alex Belzile, Erik Gustafsson, Xavier Ouellet and Cayden Primeau all dressed. Charlie Lindgren was the backup and prospect Jesse Ylönen, notably the guy drafted between Kotkaniemi and Alexander Romanov in 2018, made his NHL debut.

The goaltending was less than sharp at both ends in the first. Caufield scored his fourth as a Hab less than two minutes into the contest on the game’s first shot. He intercepted a Tyson Barrie pass at the left faceoff dot and wristed it through Mike Smith’s wickets.

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The Oilers tied the game at 8: 35 when Alex Chiasson used his body to shake off his defender before squeaking a deflected shot by Primeau. At 9: 58, the Habs regained the lead on the penalty kill when Suzuki and Romanov went down the ice, with the puck carrier Suzuki shooting from the top of the circle to beat Smith. The Oilers capped off the hectic sequence when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tied the game once again at 10: 53 with a power-play marker. Period one ended tied 2-2.

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Early in the second period, the Oilers nearly paid the ultimate price for not resting their stars when Smith got hit in the back of the head when Belzile skated into him. To the relief of Oiler fans, Smith remained in the game. The Canadiens had their own second-period scare when Jake Evans contorted awkwardly as he fell through the crease, but he didn’t miss a shift. Leon Draisaitl gave the Oilers a 3-2 lead on the power play, the recipient of a loose puck after McDavid tried to bank a shot off Primeau from behind the net.

Entering the third period down a goal, the Habs got another injury worry when Kotkaniemi wiped out and landed hard on his back, but he was also no worse for wear. The Oiler stars were surprisingly physical, with McDavid crosschecking Tatar multiple times with no call, while Draisaitl late in the period appeared to slew foot Armia. Suzuki tied the game, scoring his second in tight off a pass from Caufield. Overtime was done in a flash, as Dominik Kahun scored the winner 27 seconds in after Draisaitl took two Habs with him to the boards, leaving his fellow countrymen a chance to go alone on Primeau.

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The so-called 2020-2021 regular season for the Montreal Canadiens is in the books. The team’s final record is 24-21-11 with a goal differential of -9. None of that matters now, because they made the postseason and in a week, they’ll have a fresh set of downs against the North Division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs. With that week off, injured players will recuperate and practices, few and far between since April’s condensed schedule kicked in, will be held. I was looking for big picture thinking from the Liveblog commenters, especially since the game we were watching meant nothing in the standings.

3. “Thank God that was the last 3 ON 3 for the Habs this season.” – Bob Taylor

2. “I think that Perry deserves the “Raphael” award. The most effective NHLer who moves at a turtle’s pace.” – Marc Taillefer

1. “One week off should help the Canadiens. They desperately need this time to recharge their batteries, and get healthy. The Canadiens at full strength I believe will give Toronto a real battle, one, they haven’t had in months.” – Ryan Katz

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