About Last Night: Suzuki ends red hot February with three points

The Montreal Canadiens pushed the Florida Panthers to a shootout before falling 4-3.

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Nick Suzuki had three points for the Montreal Canadiens in a 4-3 shootout loss against the Florida Panthers on Thursday at Amerant Bank Arena.

The captain had a February to remember, tallying 11 goals and six assists in 11 games. He’s now on pace for 81 points, which would give the Canadiens their first 80-point player since Alex Kovalev in 2008.

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Sam Montembeault made consecutive starts and held his own against the formidable Florida offence with a 32-save performance.

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For the Panthers, Sam Reinhart hit the 40-goal plateau for the first time in his career.

Florida’s captain opened scoring for the home team. Aleksander Barkov beat Montembeault with a clean shot to make it 1-0.

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Montreal’s captain responded, thanks to a tape-to-tape pass by Arber Xhekaj from his own zone to Suzuki behind the Panthers defence. Suzuki walked in and beat Anthony Stolarz for his 24th. 1-1 after the first period.

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The Panthers entered the game with only one regulation loss when they open scoring, and with the second period being Montreal’s kryptonite, one might’ve expected a reversal of the even first period. Instead, the Habs kept hanging on against one of the league’s best clubs.

Montreal killed a big 4-on-3 to open the frame, but Sam Reinhart would later score his 40th, and 23rd on the power play, with David Savard in the box.

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With under one second to go in the period, the Habs executed a set play off the draw, with Suzuki winning it back to Juraj Slafkovsky. His shot through traffic crossed the goal line in time to tie it up 2-2 after 40 minutes.

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In the third period, the Habs scored a power play goal of their own. Alex Newhook completed the passing sequence with Suzuki and Cole Caufield with a one-timer blast and the Habs had their first lead of the night at 3-2.

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But Reinhart wasn’t finished. He dashed Montreal’s hopes with a shorthanded goal after a Habs passing blunder on the opposing blue line to tie the game at 3-3.

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It was a chippy affair, with Xhekaj and Savard frequently jostling with Matthew Tkachuk. Brendan Gallagher also took contact to the head from an Evan Rodrigues hit and was livid on the bench with the lack of a call. Off to overtime this game went, and both teams traded good scoring chances in the extra frame, although no one could bury one.

In the shootout, Barkov and Caufield scored for their respective teams, but Anton Lundell ended it on the last shot with a Saku Koivu-esque deke. You can’t say the Habs are playing out the string: Montembeault was not happy to let this game slip away.

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A lot has been made of the emergence of Montreal’s top line this season, but more accurately, the story of this season is captain Suzuki taking his game to another level. Habs fans have been discussing the last couple of years whether Suzuki is a true No. 1 centre. Right now, he’s looking like one. With Dach out and Monahan dealt, he’s carrying the team on his back. Xhekaj not only kept Tkachuk at bay, he also showed off his passing skills on the Suzuki goal. He’s probably not seeing Laval ever again.

Were contending teams in the Eastern Conference watching last night? If so, they might’ve seen Savard play over 22 minutes, earn an assist and be plus-2 against the powerhouse Panthers. Which playoff bound team wouldn’t want a performance like that on their blue line?

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The liveblog comments were all about Nick. He’s the clear team MVP, and the commenters would love to see him hit the 80-point mark or even end the season a point-per-game player. This is Suzuki’s team, and likely will be for years to come.

3. “Some positives. Good PK. Good PP. Played hard. Suzuki 59pts in 60GP, now on pace for 33g, 48a, 81pts.” — Michael Way

2. “Pleasantly surprised the Habs took FLA to a SO. Good game.” — Kelly Morgan

1. “If I didn’t know better I would say that was two top teams going at each other. Montreal played them toe to toe. One of their best games all year. Suzuki is a horse. Special teams were both really good tonight. Xhekaj had a real strong outing tonight as did Slav. Nothing to bow your head about in that game. The best part about it, the core of the future team led the way.” — Doug Kirkby

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