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Nick Suzuki scores twice as Canadiens deal Panthers another loss

Montreal Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis firmly believes he has a true No. 1 centre on his roster. That No.
Montreal Canadiens' Nick Suzuki (14) scores against Florida Panthers goaltender Anthony Stolarz as Panthers' Niko Mikkola (77) looks on during second period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Tuesday, April 2, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Montreal Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis firmly believes he has a true No. 1 centre on his roster.

That No. 1 centre made the difference on Tuesday night, as Nick Suzuki scored twice in a 5-3 Canadiens win over the Florida Panthers at the Bell Centre.

Montreal’s captain moved up to a career-high 32 goals and 71 points — becoming the fifth Canadiens player to break 70 in 25 years.

“As a coach, having a No. 1 centre, it's a good feeling to have," St. Louis said.

Suzuki also did it while matching up against one of the game’s best centres in Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov.

"He’s our leader for a reason," Canadiens forward Jake Evans said. "He steps up in big moments and he led the charge again tonight.”

Cole Caufield, 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.

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. They trail the Boston Bruins by four points for first place in the Atlantic Division.

"I'm not concerned. We understand where we're at,” Maurice said. "The team's a little bit snarly, and we didn't have enough in the tank to even show that snarl tonight, but they're fine, they're gonna be just fine. Everybody relax."

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. Maurice said the Panthers would provide an update Wednesday.

"We're gonna get injured — it's just a function of the schedule, so it’s going to be a grinder,” he said. “We got a good chunk of adversity right now and part of it will be the panic that will set in outside the room about the eight games."

Lundell opened the scoring 9:16 into the first period. 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 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.

“The referee made a mistake,” St. Louis said. “It was too noisy and he thought he’d heard ‘good goal’ but they’d said ‘no goal’ — he apologized for it.

“It was a strange time in the game, but the response was excellent — Suzi goes and gets a goal.”

The 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.

Caufield carried that momentum into the third with a silky wraparound goal 33 seconds into the period.

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. Despite being down just two goals, Maurice opted not to pull his goalie.

"The way things are going now somebody would take a shot off a foot and break a bone in his foot, so I'm not risking it,” Maurice said. “We're not all in on this — just get the hell off the ice before somebody else gets hurt."


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.


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.

Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press