After a grueling season, the end was finally in sight, and the playoffs looming just ahead for the Montreal Canadiens. On Wednesday afternoon the team had one final game to play: a matchup with Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.
Montreal looked far different from the team that clinched the fourth seed on Monday night, opting to rest a majority of the playoff roster. That meant no Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli, Joel Edmundson, Jeff Petry, or Jake Allen, in addition to the mountain of injuries already piled up for the Habs. It did mean the NHL debut for Jesse Ylönen however, on a line with Alex Belzile and Michael Frolik. Xavier Ouellet and Erik Gustafsson also drew back in while Cayden Primeau got the start.
The Oilers decided to ice their full-strength lineup, for some reason.
The Habs, outmatched as they might be on paper, still found the back of the net in under two minutes, with Cole Caufield doing the damage. An errant pass from Tyson Barrie was picked off by Caufield, who darted to the centre of the ice and rifled a shot through Mike Smith’s five-hole to put the Habs on top.
The Oilers answered back before the midpoint of the period when Alex Chiasson found the back of the net. He collected a pass through the slot, and circled out through the faceoff dots to find a semi-open shooting lane. He held up and fired a shot on Cayden Primeau that appeared to hit a skate and bounce under the goaltender’s arm and in, tying the game.
Then, off a defensive-zone draw Ben Chiarot was called for high-sticking, putting Montreal on the game’s first penalty kill against a high-octane Oilers power play. Instead of the Oilers immediately getting on the board, it was the Habs surprising the Oilers once again. Nick Suzuki pushed the puck up the boards and into an odd-man rush, with Alexander Romanov driving the net. Suzuki opted to keep and fired a shot off of Mike Smith’s glove for a brief Montreal lead.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins knotted the game up a minute later, taking a pass from Tyson Barrie to the top of the faceoff circle and snapping a shot over Primeau’s blocker.
Montreal kept the Oilers from getting more offence as the period came to a close, and despite the uneven lineups, the game was tied a two after 20 minutes.
The Habs put themselves in a tough spot to start the second period, with Suzuki heading to the box. Instead of playing passively, the Canadiens attacked the Oilers’ power-play pieces with a fervour, creating another short-handed rush that Smith denied. The Habs killed off the remainder of the penalty, and with Suzuki out of the box they created an odd-man rush with the finish just missing wide.
Another penalty once again put the Habs short-handed, and the Oilers’ biggest stars struck. Connor McDavid lured Primeau to the left post, and with the rookie goalie pulled out he threw a puck to the net-front. A scramble ensued where Primeau wasn’t able to collect the puck or re-establish in the centre of the crease, and Leon Draisaitl potted his 31st of the year to put Edmonton back on top.
The Oilers continued to push the Habs in the defensive zone, but some strong saves by Primeau kept the Oilers’ lead at just one goal as the teams headed into the second intermission.
Neither team really pushed the pedal down to start the third, something that allowed the Canadiens to find their skating legs, and when they did they started taking it to the Oilers in waves. Then the Suzuki-Caufield duo took over in the offensive zone, with Caufield buzzing around firing off howitzers with no warning. Thanks to a Caleb Jones misplay, the dynamic duo struck on a quick counter-attack. Caufield walked in, then flicked a pass right onto Suzuki’s stick for the young centre’s 15th goal of the season.
As the Habs sought a fourth goal they managed to draw a hooking call, and their first power play of the night. The man advantage also featured of heavy dose of the Rocket call-ups, but failed to make much of an impact or find another goal.
Darnell Nurse nearly broke the Habs’ hearts late with a heavy shot, but it bounced off the crossbar and the teams headed to overtime in the final game of the year.
The overtime didn’t last long, after Caufield got off a dangerous chance, he lost his man on the backcheck, and with Dominik Kahun unchecked, Leon Draisaitl was able to feed him for the game-winner.
It was a disappointing finish to a game the Canadiens played well in despite the roster mismatch, but there were plenty of good things to note heading into their first-round matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Allons-y friends, the post season awaits!