Resurgent Canadiens seek fourth straight victory against Hurricanes

“It’s obviously a lot better when you’re winning,” captain Nick Suzuki says. “And I think our energy and vibe in the room has been a lot better over the last couple of days.”

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For all Nick Suzuki brings to the Canadiens on and off the ice, he has never displayed much emotion with the media.

So it should come as no surprise the Montreal captain was stoic Thursday night after scoring his 30th goal in a season for the first time in his career. He also chipped in with an assist in the Canadiens’ 4-1 victory at home against Philadelphia. The 24-year-old centre also has a career-high 69 points through 72 games.

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“It really doesn’t mean that much to me,” Suzuki said after the game. “I’m just trying to do as much as I can, whatever it is, offensively, defensively. That (30 goals) obviously is a nice number to say, but we still have a few games to go. I’ll see what I can do.”

While Suzuki always will brush over personal acclaim while putting the team first, his linemate, the loquacious Juraj Slafkovsky, didn’t hide Suzuki’s importance.

“He’s our best player,” said Slafkovsky, whose assist on Suzuki’s first-period score extended his points streak to a career-high nine games. “I’m so happy for him and happy to be on the ice (with him). It’s great to see his confidence.”

Slafkovsky, who turns 20 on Saturday, now has tied the third-longest NHL points streak by a teenager. Patrik Laine had a 15-game streak for Winnipeg in 2017-18, while Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov had 11- and nine-game streaks in 2019-20.

The victory over the Flyers was a season-high third straight for Montreal. It marked the Canadiens’ first three-game winning streak since February 2023. A year earlier, between Feb. 17-26, the Canadiens won five consecutive games, defeating St. Louis, the New York Islanders, Toronto, Buffalo and Ottawa.

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Montreal hopes to extend its string Saturday at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., CityTV, TVA Sports, TSN Radio-690, 98.5 FM) against Carolina, another formidable opponent. The Hurricanes (46-21-7) already have defeated the Canadiens twice this season and clinched their sixth consecutive playoff berth Thursday night when it shut out Detroit 4-0. During that game, Sebastian Aho became the third player in franchise history to reach 300 assists.

There is no denying the Canadiens have raised the level of their play recently, having concluded a five-game road trip with a 5-1 victory against Seattle last Sunday, followed by a hard-fought 2-1 win Tuesday against Colorado, which ended the Avalanche’s nine-game winning streak. The Canadiens seem to rise to the level of their opposition, although it could be argued the team is playing without pressure as it’s out of the playoffs.

“We beat three pretty good teams,” Suzuki said. “It’s obviously a lot better when you’re winning, and I think our energy and vibe in the room has been a lot better over the last couple of days.”

A player places his hand above a Canadiens goalie's head while smiling
Canadiens’ Jayden Struble congratulates goalie Cayden Primeau following their victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Montreal on Thursday, March 28, 2024. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette

While the Canadiens will be expected to improve next season — at least challenging for a playoff spot — the future appears bright. Montreal is one of the NHL’s youngest teams with an average age of 26.4. Many of their relatively inexperienced players have displayed vast improvement as the season progressed, among them goaltender Cayden Primeau.

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Primeau at times still appears to struggle with his positioning, yet continues winning games while stopping the puck. He came within 61 seconds against Philadelphia of recording his third straight home-ice shutout. When Owen Tippett scored, it was the first Bell Centre goal against Primeau in 178:43.

“I’m just trying to improve,” Primeau said. “I think I’m definitely a better goalie now than I was at the start of the season. I never try to think too much about the future. I want to be ready when (the coach) decides to call me. I’ve never played so many games in this league. I have to say it feels good.”

Primeau, 24, has an 8-7-2 record in 18 games, including 17 starts, along with a 2.75 average and .913 save percentage. That’s the fourth-highest save percentage in franchise history for a rookie goalie with at least 15 games played, behind Ken Dryden (.930), Carey Price (.920) and Rogie Vachon (.915).

“He’s massive,” defenceman Jayden Struble said of Primeau. “I don’t know how many games it is, but he has kept us in every game. He has played his heart out. I have a lot of respect for him because he has been keeping us in games; the same for (Samuel Montembeault). Hopefully, going forward, we won’t need to rely on them as much.”

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Notes: Suzuki’s goal against Philadelphia was his 10th on the power play — the most by a Canadiens player since Shea Weber (12) during the 2016-17 season. … With three assists against Philadelphia, Mike Matheson now has 10 goals and 51 points in 72 games. He becomes the first Montreal defenceman with at least 50 points since P.K. Subban (51) in 2015-16. Subban had six goals and 45 assists in 68 games.

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