Caufield scores overtime winner as Canadiens come from behind to defeat Blue Jackets

Canadiens 4, Blue Jackets 3 (OT). “I think we’re a resilient group, but to constantly have to come back from behind takes a toll on everybody,” says head coach Martin St. Louis

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Where would the Canadiens be without Cole Caufield?

“Luckily we don’t have to think about it,” defenceman Mike Matheson said following Montreal’s come-from-behind 4-3 overtime victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday night at the Bell Centre.

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It was Caufield — who else? — who scored the winning goal at 3:56 of the extra session, taking a drop pass from captain Nick Suzuki, holding onto the puck, as only he can do, before manoeuvring into position and beating goaltender Elvis Merzlikins high to the glove side.

It was Caufield’s team-leading fourth goal this season in the Canadiens’ seventh game. He also added two assists, giving him nine points, tops on the team.

Caufield also had eight of the Canadiens’ 29 shots while logging 20 minutes, 21 seconds of ice time.

Suzuki, with his first goal this season, Matheson, with his second goal in as many games, and Sean Monahan, with his third this season, also scored for Montreal, which improved to 4-2-1 overall, including 3-2 on home ice. Suzuki added two assists.

Emil Bemstrom paced the Blue Jackets (3-3-1) with a pair of goals. Jack Roslovic opened the scoring less than three minutes into the game.

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The loss spoiled the homecoming of Columbus head coach Pascal Vincent, a Laval native, who replaced Mike Babcock after his resignation last month following an investigation by the league’s players’ association into claims that he violated their privacy asking to see photos on their cellphones.

Caufield’s goal capped a feverish overtime period that began with netminder Sam Montembeault making one spectacular save after another in the opening minute, while the Canadiens were short-handed after Brendan Gallagher’s high-sticking penalty in the final minute of regulation time.

Of Montembeault’s series of stops, the biggest was a pad save on Johnny Gaudreau.

“I really wanted it,” said Montembeault, who blocked 33 shots for a .917 save percentage, improving his record to 2-1. “I saw him come down. There was no traffic. It was a reactionary save.”

The Canadiens displayed their resiliency on this night, overcoming deficits of 2-0 at the end of the opening period and 3-1 in the second, scoring the game’s final three goals. And while Montreal allowed two power-play goals — the absence of shot-blocking injured defenceman David Savard never has been so apparent — it also scored twice with the man advantage for the first time this season.

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“I think we’re a resilient group,” head coach Martin St. Louis said. “But to constantly have to come back from behind takes a toll on everybody. We haven’t had to do that too much. We know, if we have gas in the tank, I think we can stay the course and keep building our game. Obviously you have to defend really hard when you’re down like that. You can’t give them any more. You have to really be in attack mode. You can’t do that every game. You can’t sustain that.

“As much as it’s in there, why test it every game?”

Sam Montembeault looks behind him at the puck high in the net
Columbus Blue Jackets’ Jack Roslovic (96) scores on Montreal Canadiens goaltender Sam Montembeault during the first period. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette

St. Louis tore a strip off his players during the first intermission, following a period in which the Canadiens were outshot 15-9, let alone allowing early and late goals. And, like the head coach said, he doesn’t want to see his team repeatedly have to overcome deficits.

“I think it was pretty clear that wasn’t good enough,” Matheson said. “Definitely not to the standard we want to play at. It feels great (to come back). Those are the games that can really spark some things as a team. Hopefully it builds a lot of momentum and confidence in the group.”

And while the Canadiens’ power play remains a work in progress, it entered the contest having scored only four goals with the man advantage off 24 opportunities (16.7 per cent), ranking 17th in the NHL.

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“I think great power plays don’t necessarily score every time they’re out there,” said Matheson, who plays on the first power-play unit. “I think they generate momentum. At the end of the day they score at important times. I think we did that tonight.”

Overtime might not have been necessary had the Canadiens buried some of their opportunities down the stretch. During one sequence within a span of two minutes, Monahan, Josh Anderson and Caufield all were in alone, only to be thwarted by Merzlikins.

Anderson, still seeking his first goal this season, was denied on a breakaway early in the second period.

Canadiens' Arber Xhekaj, with his helmet off, has Columbus Blue Jackets' Dmitri Voronkov in a headlock along the boards
Montreal Canadiens’ Arber Xhekaj (72) gets into a fight with Columbus Blue Jackets’ Dmitri Voronkov (10) during the first period. Photo by Pierre Obendrauf /Montreal Gazette

And, although these teams don’t have a history of hostilities, it appeared they were on a collision course after Arber Xhekaj scored a decision over rookie Dmitri Voronkov, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound power forward making his NHL debut, early in the game. Not long after, Columbus defenceman Cole Sillinger delivered a cheap shot, taking a boarding penalty on Alex Newhook. Voronkov also was guilty of a hit to the head of Jordan Harris in the second period.

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