Cole Caufield scored his first career hat trick and the last-place Canadiens crushed the Presidents’ Trophy champions Florida Panthers 10-2.
Caufield had a roaring end to his season under interim coach Martin St. Louis. After scoring only one goal through the first 30 games of his rookie season, Caufield finished with 23 as the Canadiens leading goal scorer.
“It was frustrating, it was hard,” Caufield said. “It’s hard to get negative comments about you but I think I learned a lot this year about perseverance, sticking with it and finding your own self and my own motivation. A lot of the outside noise can break into you and do a lot of things that can affect you.”
“It feels pretty good to get back where you feel like you should be.”
Caufield completed his hat trick at 8:12 of the third period and kept one of the hats as a souvenir.
“Brendan Gallagher told me to go grab one and I just said ‘OK,’ ” Caufield said. “I think that’d be cool to look back on one day.”
On his 700th career start, Carey Price made 37 saves to record his first win this season. Price’s last win came in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals.
“It means everything to us,” Caufield said about Price’s win. “He’s the backbone of our team, he’s the guy you want to play for. To have him in the room every day, it was just something special and you just feel the energy he brings no matter if he’s excited or not.
“Him winning this game I think it means a lot,” added St. Louis. “I put myself in his shoes, battling the way he’s battled, the level that he’s played out in this league and he’s got his own expectations. The top guys in this league are really hard on themselves. So for him to finish like this, I’m really happy for him.”
As Tyler Pitlick netted Montreal’s tenth goal of the night, “Guy! Guy! Guy!” chants rained from the Bell Centre rafters honouring the passing of former Habs legend Guy Lafleur.
“I think it’s crazy that we scored 10 goals tonight,” Caufield said “You can’t make this stuff up, everything happens for a reason.”
The meaning echoed on the other side of the ice where even Panthers coach Andrew Brunette recognized the coincidence.
“That was my dad’s favourite player and for a lot of people in that generation it was all about Guy,” Brunette said. “Too bad we lost him so early but what a hockey player he was. You don’t find too many Guys but I wish we didn’t give up 10.”
The Panthers will find solace in having clinched the Presidents’ Trophy. Brunette and his team will try to shake away the double-digit loss and focus on the Washington Capitals who they will face in the first round.
“We still have our eyes on the bigger prize and this group’s been really good at just kind of keeping it day-to-day and moving on,” he said.
Brunette argued that his squad has veterans like Joe Thornton who have an understanding of what it takes to make it in the playoffs but being the league leaders has its weight. Since the 2000-01 season, only three teams have won both the Presidents’ Trophy and Stanley Cup in the same season. The Detroit Red Wings are the only team to do it twice.
“They’ll be a target and there will be all kinds of talking,” Brunette said. “They’ve probably never been a No. 1 seed in a long time and these are all different things we have to deal with.”
Jonas Johansson had a tough night at the office allowing 10 goals from 37 shots.
Jordan Harris notched his first career goal from the point with the first shot of the night.
Mike Hoffman tapped in a loose puck in the crease to get the Habs up by two goals. Then Caufield winded a wrist shot to get Montreal up by three.
Gallagher added a power-play marker to give Montreal a 4-0 lead.
The Panthers cut their deficit to three when Ben Chiarot scored on the power play at 18:23 of the first period.
Caufield matched his jersey number with his 22nd goal at 1:33. Perrault followed up with his fourth of the campaign.
Pitlick connected with Jake Evans alone in front of the net at 6:08. Dvorak then tapped in Montreal’s eighth goal.
Pitlick netted Montreal’s tenth goal of the night about two minutes later.
Noel Acciari added a late Florida marker in an embarrassing 10-2 loss.