About Last Night: Suzuki leads the way in 5-3 Habs win over Panthers

Captain becomes the first Canadien to hit the 70-point plateau since Max Domi in 2018-19.

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Nick Suzuki scored twice to lead the Montreal Canadiens to a 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night.

Montreal’s captain passed the 70-point plateau on the season, making him the first Hab to do so since Max Domi in 2018-19.

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Cole Caufield busted out of a six-game scoring slump with his 21st goal of the season, while Juraj Slafkovsky’s assist means he has had points in 10 of his last 11 games.

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Alex Newhook added two assists. Goalie Sam Montembeault was busy in his end, making 37 saves against a Panthers team down two stars in Matthew Tkachuk and Carter Verhaeghe. Defenceman Aaron Ekblad exited the game in the first period after getting tangled up with Slafkovsky and did not return.

Montreal was down 2-1 after the first period thanks to some missed coverage on defence. Anton Lundell was allowed to walk right in and beat Montembeault for the game’s first goal.

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Joel Armia continued his strong play of late, tying the game up only 56 seconds later by pouncing on a rebound in front of Anthony Stolarz. Armia has 14 goals this season, just two away from matching his career-high.

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Aleksander Barkov dominates the Canadiens like few others in this league, and he was left all alone in front to receive a pass from Vladimir Tarasenko. Florida regained the lead at 2-1.

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Suzuki scored twice in the second period to give the Habs a 3-2 lead. The first came unassisted off an interception of a Dimitri Kulikov pass in the Panthers’ zone.

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Then Suzuki finally got the anemic power play going, with a successful redirect off a Mike Matheson point shot.

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Montreal extended its lead to 4-2 only 33 seconds into the third period when Caufield beat Stolarz on a wraparound for his 21st goal of the season. The goal leaves Caufield just four points away from hitting the 60-point plateau for the first time in his career.

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Then on a Panthers power play, Jake Evans scored blocker side on a breakaway for a short-handed goal. Montreal led 5-2 early in the third.

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Montreal would give up a late goal to Sam Bennett, but held on for the 5-3 win. The Habs also weathered some late nastiness by the Panthers, when Nick Cousins delivered a late hit on Jake Evans that resulted in his ejection from the game. It was a game that was big on offence, with 79 shots between the two clubs, and in penalties with 66 total minutes handed out.

Early on, the story of the game was that Brendan Gallagher had a goal awarded upon video review then immediately taken away due to a miscommunication among officials. It was a faux pas from the officials that ended up being a non-factor.

Last night was all about the top line contributing three goals to the cause, and that’s reflected in Hockey Stat Cards’ impact card.

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It was a pretty positive night in the Liveblog comments as well. Caufield finally scored, while the commenters liked what they were seeing from a couple of players who entered the season as contractual ballast: Armia and Gallagher. Even Anderson shook off a miscue on the first Panther goal to get a couple of scoring chances. Are these players worth their collective cap hit? Certainly not, but they can at least enter next season on a more positive note.

At the end of each season, we usually discuss in the comments who the team MVP was. This year, everyone is in alignment: Suzuki is the straw that stirs Montreal’s drink. He was the team’s best player entering the campaign, and he’s lapped the field since then. This is a team that’s been light on offence since Y2K, so to see Suzuki have the potential to reach 80 on a team where only two other players have 50 is impressive.

3. “How embarrassed are some of these contending teams? Do they not understand they’re playing a young re-building team? Clearly they don’t.” -Carin Latzel

2. “Arber does his job well separating players from the puck. I see Reinbacher already doing that with Laval.” -Mick Chow

1. “I hate the end of the year when the Habs are not in the playoffs. IT. SUCKS. !!!!!” -Marc Taillefer

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