Cole Caufield’s hat trick leads Canadiens route of Florida in season finale

Montreal gives its fans something to cheer about, while Florida rests its key players ahead of the playoffs.

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The Canadiens wrapped up the season in style Friday night as they scored three goals in the first 4:30 of the game and Cole Caufield registered his first NHL hat trick en route to a 10-2 win over the Florida Panthers at the Bell Center.

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Before you get too excited about the result, it should be noted that the Panthers’ goal was to get out of this game in one piece. Florida, which had already clinched the President’s Trophy for the best regular-season record in the NHL, used third-string goaltender Jonas Johansson and rested key players Jonathan Huberdeau, Sam Bennett, Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad and Sam Reinhart. Two other players — Anton Lundell and Gustav Forsling — were dressed and listed on the scoresheet, but did not see the ice.

But no matter who was on the other side, the Canadiens gave their fans something to cheer as they wait for the management duo of Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes to decide who will stay and who will go before the start of next season.

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Count rookie defenseman Jordan Harris as a keeper. He has been impressed with his smooth skating and calm demeanour since he joined the Canadiens after wrapping up his collegiate career at Boston’s Northeastern University. He opened the scoring Friday with his first NHL goal, beating Johansson with a shot through traffic from the blue line.

The Canadiens opened a 3-0 lead when Mike Hoffman and Caufield scored goals 18 seconds apart.

Hoffman got all the right bounces as he scored his 15th goal at 4:18. David Savard’s shot from the blue line hit a post, caromed off the back of Johansson’s skate, and was lying in the crease for Hoffman to reach around the goaltender and push it home.

Caufield scored the first of his three goals when he beat Johansson off the rush from the right faceoff circle at 4:30. Caufield scored again early in the second period to give Montreal a 5-1 lead and completed his hat trick in the third period. I have finished the season with 23 goals, an impressive total when you consider that 22 of those goals were scored after Martin St. Louis took over as head coach in early February.

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Mathieu Perreault, who won’t be back next year, set up Brendan Gallagher for a power-play goal late in the first period and added a goal of his own in the second period. It was his fourth of the season and the first since he had a hat trick against Detroit on Oct. 23.

Jake Evans, Christian Dvorak and Tyler Pitlick scored the other Montreal goals.

Carey Price, who missed most of the season rehabbing from knee surgery last summer, picked up his first win after starting his comeback with four defeats. Former Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot beat Price on a first-period power play and assisted on Noel Acciari’s third-period goal.

Head equipment manager Pierre Gervais was honored in a pregame ceremony. Gervais, who is retiring after working 3,112 games in a career that spanned four decades, was joined on the ice by Hall of Famer Bob Gainey and current captain Shea Weber. After the morning skate, the players expressed their thanks for presenting the avid outdoorsman with an all-terrain vehicle.

During a break in the first period, the Canadiens acknowledged Alain (Flower) Gagnon, who is retiring after 19 years as the team services co-ordinator.

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