The Habs kicked off this final week of the regular season with a makeup game against the Edmonton Oilers. They were a point away from clinching their postseason berth so they still had plenty on the line. The Oilers did not as Winnipeg or Montreal can not catch them and they are too far back to catch the Toronto Maple Leafs.
For this reason, Jake Allen was facing Mikko Koskinen as the goaltending duel on this night. The Habs kept the same blue line for the game, but the return of Paul Byron caused some shuffling to the forward lines. Nick Suzuki centered the top unit that featured Tyler Toffoli and Joel Armia. Jesperi Kotkaniemi was playing with Josh Anderson and Tomas Tatar. The third unit featured Jake Evans with Paul Byron and Artturi Lehkonen while Cole Caufield remained with his two veteran linemates in Eric Staal and Corey Perry. The Canadiens didn’t make it easy, but they made it to overtime thanks to its third line where they lost, clinching a playoff berth in the process.
The Evans, Lehkonen, Byron trio was the best all night long and this started quite early. Two minutes in, Byron set up Evans who missed a wide-open net as the Habs came out fiercely and dominated early. Their momentum was lost when Kailer Yamamoto took a tripping penalty in the offensive zone during Edmonton’s first offensive push. The power play did absolutely nothing, but the shift that followed that saw Lehkonen and Evans completed a give-and-go to send Evans in. Evans pulled a nifty fake on Darnell Nurse and then quickly roofed a shot to make it 1-0 Montreal.
On the very next shift, Leon Draisaitl simply outplayed Jon Merrill who struggled on this night. Merrill’s play wasn’t too bad here, but it was made worse when Draisaitl then found James Neal who snuck a stinker by Allen to tie it right before the ten-minute mark.
The second half of the period with a brutal Perry giveaway gifted Neal a chance as he hit the post. The veterans and Caufield’s next shift was a good one as they pressured the Oilers. Unfortunately for them, they stayed out too long, causing them all to be late on the backcheck. Merrill once again compounded this by not trusting his young partner. Alexander Romanov completed the right play, but Merrill cheated to help the kid and left his man unchecked. The result was Yamamoto finding Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for a goal Allen didn’t have much chance on as the Oilers took the lead.
Then Armia made his only play of the night. He was without pressure when he tried to bank a clear off the glass and missed resulting in a penalty. Edmonton’s top-ranked power play was not too dangerous as Evans completed another solid shift in this circumstance.
The second period started with a solid shift by the Staal line before Caufield fanned on a decent scoring chance. Edmonton then took over for a while, aided by Allen giving up big juicy rebounds and having to make acrobatic moves to cover his own mistakes.
It was then déjà-vu as the Oilers were once again their own worst enemy to start the period as this time it was Neal who took an offensive zone penalty to open the door for Montreal. The Habs once again completed an atrocious power play as their only chance saw Toffoli fire way high. The déjà-vu continued as the shift that followed the advantage was Evans to Lehkonen to Byron who put home a difficult backhand to tie the game.
Byron almost scored a second on the same shift, but Koskinen likely made his best save of the night on the play. Right before the midway point, Connor McDavid absolutely undressed Tatar before sliding a pass to Dominik Kahun to regain the lead.
The second half of the period was a snooze fest as the Oilers were defending the lead and the Kahun goal appeared to have stunned the Canadiens. The only time anything interesting happened was when the Evans line was on the ice as they were really feeling it and attacking with ease all night long. The Staal line once again managed to join in on being offensively threatening near the end of the period, but Montreal still ended the period with a 3-2 deficit.
The Staal line once again started the third period with a good presence and this really set the tone for the period. Worth noting is that Ducharme opted for a swap up front. Kotkaniemi, Tatar, and Armia were severely struggling so they were reunited but strangely still saw plenty of ice.
Early in the period, the entire Evans line made some nice passes which resulted in the third member in Lehkonen getting on the board. However, the play was clearly offside, so Edmonton wasted little time in challenging and getting the goal rightfully waved off. This was followed by a nice pass by Toffoli that sent in Anderson on a breakaway. Anderson deked Koskinen but ran out of room.
Anderson then started the last ten minutes of the third with another chance as this time he fanned on a puck in the slot in the middle of a scrum. As unsurprising as it was, it was Lehkonen who finally refused to be left off the goal section as he wanted to follow his linemates. Lehkonen accepted an Evans pass before using Caleb Jones as a screen and beating Koskinen short side.
The goal woke up the team as all of a sudden all four lines were first on the puck for the first time all night. It wouldn’t last long as Dmitry Kulikov had a good scoring chance forcing Allen to make his best stop of the night, but it got the team to overtime which also meant that the playoffs were now clinched.
The overtime lasted three minutes but saw Tyson Barrie hit the post while the Habs missed some breakaway passes due to bouncing pucks. Caufield had a shift where he looked threatening even if he didn’t really get a clean look. Finally, it was Draisaitl who found McDavid for a breakaway. With no one to pass to this time, McDavid focused on beating Allen and he was able to do so and end the game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Jake Evans
Evans has been the best Hab player over the last few weeks and this one was no exception. Positionally sound, he uses his speed to then be well-positioned offensively. He is standing out by his constant effort level, his positioning, and willingness to always make the plays that hurt. This game was no different as he starts to make everyone wonder if 4C is really the ceiling here.
Stats: 1 goal, 2 assists, +2, 2 shots, 17:17 T.O.I.
2nd Star: Artturi Lehkonen
What a difference it makes when Lehkonen has a game where he’s hitting the net. An author of so many good plays, Lehkonen was irreproachable as usual in the defensive game, but easily found his linemates and appears to once again be getting hot just in time for the postseason.
Stats: 1 goal, 2 assists, +2, 2 shots, 2 hits, 15:16 T.O.I.
3rd Star: Paul Byron
A pretty good return to the lineup for the small but feisty forward. He was all over the ice and covered for his two young linemates who had the energy to get him the puck. If this line can play like this heading into the playoffs, neither Toronto nor Edmonton have an answer for them as a fourth line. Now we just need the rest of the roster to follow suit.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +3, 2 shots, 4 hits, 14:58 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention: Corey Perry
Anderson was also deserving here, but it’s repetitive with Anderson. Plays hard, is noticeable but snake-bitten. He’ll be in the 3 Stars once he breaks that pattern. Perry isn’t as flashy as Anderson, but he’s taken a kid under his wing in Caufield. He’s the most defensively responsible on the line, and he’s now also covering for a centreman who looks like the game has passed him by. When Staal plays decent, as he did tonight, the night is a very capable fourth, but can Staal keep up come playoff time? Honestly, I’m thinking Perry is the only player on this trio that plays come Game 1 if everyone is healthy.
Stats: -1, 1 shot, 2 hits, 16:38 T.O.I.