The resurgent Canadians seek fourth consecutive victory against the Hurricanes

“It’s obviously a lot better when you win,” says captain Nick Suzuki. “And I think our energy and vibe in the room has been a lot better the last few days.”

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For all that Nick Suzuki brings to the Canadiens on and off the ice, he has never shown much emotion with the media.

So it should come as no surprise that Montreal’s captain was stoic Thursday night after scoring his 30th goal in a season for the first time in his career. He also contributed an assist in the Canadiens’ 4-1 home win against Philadelphia. The 24-year-old center also has a career-high 69 points in 72 games.

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“It doesn’t really mean much to me,” Suzuki said after the game. “I’m just trying to do everything I can, whatever it is, offensively and defensively. That (30 goals) is obviously a good number to say, but we still have a few games left. I’ll see what i can do.”

While Suzuki always ignores personal praise and puts the team first, his linemate, the loquacious Juraj Slafkovsky, made no secret of Suzuki’s importance.

“He’s our best player,” said Slafkovsky, whose assist on Suzuki’s score in the first period extended his point streak to a career-high nine games. “I’m very happy for him and happy to be on the ice (with him). It is fantastic to see the confidence from him.”

Slafkovsky, who turns 20 on Saturday, has now tied the NHL’s third-longest point streak by a teenager. Patrik Laine had a 15-game streak for Winnipeg in 2017-18, while Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov had streaks of 11 and nine games in 2019-20.

The victory over the Flyers was the third in a row for Montreal, the biggest of the season. It marked the Canadiens’ first three-game winning streak since February 2023. A year earlier, between February 17 and 26, the Canadiens won five straight games, defeating St. Louis, the New York Islanders, Toronto, Buffalo and Ottawa.

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Montreal hopes to expand its chain on Saturday at the Bell Center (7 p.m., CityTV, TVA Sports, TSN Radio-690, 98.5 FM) against Carolina, another formidable opponent. The Hurricanes (46-21-7) have already defeated the Canadiens twice this season and clinched their sixth straight playoff berth Thursday night when they blanked Detroit 4-0. During that game, Sebastian Aho became the third player in franchise history to reach 300 assists.

There’s no denying that the Canadiens have raised the level of their play recently, having concluded a five-game road trip with a 5-1 win against Seattle last Sunday, followed by a hard-fought 2-1 win on Tuesday against Colorado. which ended the Avalanche’s nine-game winning streak. The Canadiens seem to be on par with their opponents, although one could argue that the team is playing without pressure since they are out of the playoffs.

“We beat three pretty good teams,” Suzuki said. “It’s obviously a lot better when you win, and I think our energy and vibe in the room has been a lot better the last few days.”

A player places his hand on the head of a Canadiens goalie while smiling.
Jayden Struble of the Canadiens congratulates goaltender Cayden Primeau following their victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Montreal on Thursday, March 28, 2024. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette

While the Canadiens are expected to improve next season (at least challenging for a playoff spot), the future looks bright. Montreal is one of the youngest teams in the NHL with an average age of 26.4 years. Many of their relatively inexperienced players have shown great improvement as the season has progressed, including goaltender Cayden Primeau.

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At times, Primeau still seems to struggle with his positioning, but he continues to win games while stopping the puck. He was 61 seconds away against Philadelphia from recording his third consecutive shutout at home. When Owen Tippett scored, it was Bell Center’s first goal against Primeau at 178:43.

“I’m just trying to get better,” Primeau said. “I think I’m definitely a better goalkeeper now than I was at the beginning of the season. I never try to think too much about the future. I want to be ready when (the coach) decides to call me. He had never played so many games in this league. I must say that he feels good.”

Primeau, 24, has an 8-7-2 record in 18 games, including 17 starts, along with a 2.75 average and a .913 save percentage. That’s the fourth-highest save percentage in franchise history for a rookie goalie with at least 15 games played, behind Ken Dryden (.930), Carey Price (.920) and Rogie Vachon (.915).

“He’s huge,” defenseman Jayden Struble said of Primeau. “I don’t know how many games there are, but he has kept us in every game. He has played with all his heart. I have a lot of respect for him because he has kept us in the games; the same for (Samuel Montembeault). Hopefully in the future we won’t have to rely on them so much.”

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Grades: Suzuki’s goal against Philadelphia was his 10th on the power play, the most by a Canadiens player since Shea Weber (12) during the 2016-17 season. … With three assists against Philadelphia, Mike Matheson now has 10 goals and 51 points in 72 games. He becomes the first Montreal defenseman with at least 50 points since PK Subban (51) in 2015-16. Subban scored six goals and 45 assists in 68 games.

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