April 17th, 2024

Nick Suzuki scores twice as Canadiens deal Panthers another loss

By Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press on April 2, 2024.

Montreal Canadiens' Cole Caufield (22) moves in to score on Florida Panthers goaltender Anthony Stolarz during third period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Tuesday, April 2, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL – Captain Nick Suzuki scored twice as the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Florida Panthers 5-3 on Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.

Cole Caufield, Jake Evans and Joel Armia also scored while Alex Newhook had two assists for Montreal (29-33-12), which won its fourth in five games.

Sam Montembeault stopped 37 shots.

Aleksander Barkov, Sam Bennett and Anton Lundell – with a goal and an assist – replied for Florida (47-24-5), which lost to Montreal for the first time in four meetings this season. Anthony Stolarz made 34 saves.

The playoff-bound Panthers have struggled with losses in eight of their last 10 games, including a 6-4 defeat to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday. They entered Tuesday night trailing the Boston Bruins by two points for first place in the Atlantic Division.

Florida was missing top forwards Matthew Tkachuk (illness) and Carter Verhaeghe (upper body). Defenceman Aaron Ekblad also exited the game before the second period with an undisclosed injury after a skirmish with Canadiens forward Juraj Slafkovsky late in the first.

The Canadiens went 1-for-7 on the power play. Florida was 0-for-4.

Lundell opened the scoring 9:16 into the first period. After sustained Montreal pressure, he picked up the puck on the break before cruising around Josh Anderson and casually beating Montembeault with a deke.

Montreal replied 56 seconds later when Armia buried a rebound off a shot by Michael Pezzetta.

Barkov capitalized on another Canadiens defensive breakdown to make it 2-1 at 13:13.

The Panthers captain took a feed from Vladimir Tarasenko in the slot and pulled a move to the backhand around Montembeault. He has 47 points in 35 career games against the Canadiens.

The Canadiens put the pressure on to start the second with Brendan Gallagher nearly scoring by jamming the puck across the goal line two minutes into the period.

After video review, the officials announced that the puck crossed the goal line before revising the call moments later to say the puck had in fact not crossed the line, keeping Florida up by a goal.

The unusual mix-up a day after April Fools’ Day had the home fans booing for minutes.

Those jeers shifted to cheers when Suzuki evened the score at 5:58 after Florida’s Dmitry Kulikov gifted him a turnover all alone in the slot.

Suzuki then gave the Canadiens a 3-2 lead with a deflection on the power play at 12:24 for his 32nd of the season.

Montreal dominated the shots 13-7 in the period.

Caufield carried that momentum into the third with a silky wraparound goal 33 seconds into the period for his first goal in seven games.

Evans then piled on with a short-handed goal on a breakaway to give the Canadiens a three-goal cushion at 4:34.

Tempers flared with six minutes left when Florida’s Nick Cousins bodychecked Evans after the whistle. Brandon Montour got into it with Gallagher in the ensuing scrum and threw the Canadiens forward to the ice. Cousins, Montour and Gallagher received 10-minute misconducts as Montreal jumped on the power play.

The visibly frustrated Panthers took two more penalties to fill the penalty box with four players, but the Canadiens didn’t capitalize on the lengthy power play.

Bennett scored short-handed to bring Florida within two at 18:44.

VERHAEGHE WEEK TO WEEK

Verhaeghe is out week-to-week after exiting Monday’s contest against Toronto in the third period, Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said. Maurice added that the team is confident Verhaeghe will be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs.

The 28-year-old Verhaeghe has 33 goals and 38 assists in 75 games this season.

GUHLE RETURNS

Canadiens defenceman Kaiden Guhle returned from a one-game suspension for slashing. While sitting on the bench during last week’s 4-1 Montreal win over Philadelphia, Guhle hit Flyers forward Travis Konecny in the stomach with his stick. The play went unpenalized but Guhle missed Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Carolina.

Johnathan Kovacevic was a healthy scratch with Guhle back.

UP NEXT

Canadiens: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.

Panthers: Visit the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 2, 2024.

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