Suzuki, Canadiens look to contain Lightning’s top forwards in Game 2

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Nick Suzuki knows the Montreal Canadiens probably won’t be able keep his line away from Tampa Bay Lightning’s top line in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS). So, they’ll simply have to play better within the matchup.

Suzuki, Tyler Toffoli and rookie Cole Caufield had a long night against Tampa Bay forwards Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov in Montreal’s 5-1 loss in Game 1 of the best-of-7 series Monday with three goals being scored at their expense. 

Aided by a Caufield turnover, Point and Palat set up defenseman Erik Cernak, who gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead 6:19 into the game. Kucherov converted another turnover into a goal to give Tampa Bay a 3-1 lead 2:00 into the third period and scored again to make it 4-1 at 11:25 after Point beat Suzuki cleanly on a face-off.

“We had a few turnovers. Me personally, I had two,” Suzuki said Tuesday. “Just have to keep those down, be smart with the puck. I think once we get in the offensive zone, we can outwork them there. It’s just going to be key. It looks like they want to play against us the whole time, so we have to do a better job.”

With the Lightning having the last change on home ice in Game 2, Canadiens assistant Luke Richardson acknowledged there’s little Montreal can do to get away from that matchup. So, it will be up to Toffoli, Suzuki and Caufield to be smarter with their puck decisions and not make mistakes that give Palat, Point and Kucherov more scoring chances.

“I don’t think it was their best night, for sure, but as a team I think we were all off of our game and we’ll be back on our best game tomorrow,” Richardson said. “There’s not much you can do on the road. You can try and flip things around a little bit, but obviously the home team has last match. Whoever’s out there, we talked about it, has to be on your toes. Obviously, when the Point line especially is out there, they’re very dangerous.”

Video: Kucherov, Lightning defeat Canadiens in Game 1, 5-1

Point leads the playoffs with 14 goals and is second with 23 points. Kucherov leads all players with 30 points (seven goals, 23 assists) in 19 postseason games. Palat has scored 10 points (four goals, six assists).

Toffoli, Suzuki and Caufield have proven they can be dangerous in the postseason too. Toffoli leads Montreal with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 18 games. Suzuki is second on Montreal with 13 points (five goals eight assists) in 18 games and Caufield, who was a healthy scratch for the first two games, is tied for third with nine points (four goals, five assists) in 16 games.

Caufield was a difference-maker offensively in the Stanley Cup Semifinals against the Vegas Golden Knights, leading the Canadiens with four goals. But that line couldn’t generate much offensively in Game 1 against Tampa Bay. Caufield had two shots on goal, Toffoli had one and Suzuki had none.

Creating more offensively and forcing Palat, Point and Kucherov to defend more in their end in Game 2 would make Toffoli, Suzuki and Caufield’s job easier defensively, too.

“We have to trust our own game,” Suzuki said. “There’s moments in the game where as long as we can use our skill and make the plays (they can), but you have to realize if you have nothing right in front of you, just to make a simple play and not to try to make something out of nothing. I think we got caught a couple times doing that. But when we were making plays, using each other, we had some good shifts in the offensive zone. Just need more of that.”

Toffoli is a veteran of 72 NHL playoff games and the 29-year-old won the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2014. But a lot of this is new ground for Suzuki, 21, and Caufield, 20. 

The winner of the 2021 Hobey Baker Award as the top men’s player in NCAA Division I ice hockey, Caufield signed with Montreal on March 27 after completing his sophomore season at the University of Wisconsin and played in 10 regular-season games before the playoffs. Suzuki is in his second playoffs after scoring seven points (four goals, three season) in 10 games last season.

So Caufield and Suzuki are going to go through some learning experiences. Richardson believes Game 1 was one of them.  

“I think they’re growing every day, so today is another day to grow and tomorrow is another day to show that growth in your game,” Richardson said. “You have to implement things that you learn every day and put it into your game and then grow and get better and it has to happen fast, especially in the Final here. So, expect everybody to be better, especially the younger guys and I think they’re going to enjoy it. 

“They’ll have one more day of experience of being in the Final. That will help. And they’re great players, so they’re going to give us a good push tomorrow night to get us back even in the series.”

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