Nick Suzuki had a huge smile as he celebrated scoring the final goal in the Montreal Canadiens’ 4-1 victory against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals on Tuesday.
The raw emotion on his face showed how much the win against the team that drafted him and traded him meant to both the center and Montreal, which took the lead in the best-of-7 series at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The 21-year-old, who was selected by the Golden Knights in the first round (No. 13) of the 2017 NHL Draft, had a goal and two assists to help the Canadiens get within one win of their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1993. Game 6 is at Montreal on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“We’re a really confident team right now,” Suzuki said after scoring three points in a Stanley Cup Playoff game for the first time. “And that’s really, really helpful during the playoffs.”
The same could be said of the resiliency shown by the Canadiens, who are 10-2 when they score first and 10-0 when scoring at least two goals through 16 games in these playoffs.
What impressed Suzuki is the way the Canadiens kept their composure in the third period when the Golden Knights were making a push. Max Pacioretty cut the Montreal lead to 3-1 at 4:09 of the third, but the Canadiens shut the Golden Knights down the rest of the way.
Suzuki scored into an empty net at 18:54 after assisting on second-period goals by Eric Staal and Cole Caufield.
“I thought we played a great 60 minutes,” he said. “Even after they scored their goal we responded well. We just stayed under control. They had their chances, but I thought we played a great team game, all four lines were contributing and that’s how we’ve got to play the next game.”
Suzuki was traded with forward Tomas Tatar to Montreal in the deal that brought Pacioretty to Vegas on Sept. 9, 2018. He has scored five points (one goal, four assists) in the series and 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 16 games this postseason, showing the poise of a veteran.
Suzuki doesn’t like to talk about himself, preferring to let his actions on the ice speak for him. But his teammates had plenty of praise for him Tuesday.
“He’s super competitive,” Staal said. “I think like a lot of guys on our team, the compete level is really, really high. Obviously the skill set is there and the intelligence is there, but you need to have that extra compete and that level of competitiveness in order to make differences like we have been. That’s the No. 1 thing I love about him and all the guys on our team is our compete.”
Suzuki stressed that Montreal must stick to its approach of not looking past the next game. Teams that win Game 5 when a best-of-7 NHL semifinal is tied have a series record of 47-15 (.758).
He said the key is the belief the Canadiens had in themselves inside the dressing room when so many on the outside doubted them.
“A lot of people at the beginning of the playoffs,” Suzuki said, “counted us out.”