Cole Caufield, the 20-year-old who broke records with the United States National Development Program team before completing two of a Wisconsin Badger’s most prolific seasons ever in the NCAA, plays third game for the Canadiens.
His first game of the Stanley Cup playoffs, after scoring four goals in his first 10 regular season NHL games, will be the first played at the Bell Center in over four years, and he will be seen as desperate. for his team. Needs.
“I’m here to boost the team, energize us and help us win,” Caufield said after finishing the morning skating on a line with Joel Armia and Nick Suzuki. “I’m going to do whatever I can to play in the attacking zone, play 200 feet and do all the right things and play with a high level of competition.
That’s what Caufield has practically been doing since he first skated as a kid. He’s a top-notch sniper, a fast, spatial finisher who can change the game with a flick of his wrists.
As Canadiens top scorer Tyler Toffoli recently put it in this editorial for The players’ stand, “He’s special, man. For real. He has that factor. I’ve only seen it in a few guys in the league. He has it.
That alone is something one probably should have relied on in the first two games of this series.
But Caufield comes in for Game 3 as an ace in the hole.
“He’s a confident kid,” said teammate John Merrill, who goes from a defense pair with Shea Weber to one with Brett Kulak.
“He’s not arrogant, he’s confident. He’s confident as a player and as a person, which is really refreshing to see. He doesn’t walk around like he’s better than anyone, but he definitely walks around like he knows he can make an impact. So we’re excited to see what he can do tonight and we are all confident that he can come and do a job for us.
Caufield’s mere threat to unblock his wrist is an added dimension, whether he scores or not. He’s a player who needs to be considered at all times while he’s on the ice, and the opposition needing to focus on him will help free up space for some of Montreal’s other scorers, who don’t. have yet to reach the chart in this series against this peak. -octane on the Maple Leafs side.
Toffoli, who had scored 28 goals in the regular season, notched two assists but was held scoreless in the first two games. He has four total shots at the net having averaged at least three over the 56 games leading up to the playoffs.
Brendan Gallagher, who has recorded more shooting attempts than any other forward in the NHL over the past four seasons, has been limited to just three at net, none of them hitting from the back.
Tomas Tatar, an offensive catalyst for the past three seasons with Montreal, was on the verge of being struck out of Game 3 when Eric Staal signaled to coaches on the morning skate that he couldn’t play due to injury. Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme warned him.
“He’s an attacking guy so we want him to produce scoring chances and himself to have scoring chances,” Ducharme said of Tatar, who has no points and no shots. to the goal in this series. “We think, and I think, that he can bring more to that side, and we had that discussion this morning. I can’t wait to see how he plays tonight.
All eyes will be on Caufield, however, as the Canadiens try to regain the momentum from the Maple Leafs, who grabbed him with a 5-1 win in Toronto to tie the series on Saturday. He can revive the power play, which failed to convert on his first six opportunities in the series, but he can also do more than that.
Caufield has shown great chemistry with Suzuki in the regular season and has proven to be anything but a five-on-five handicap – especially at the Bell Center, where six of his 10 games have been played.
With the home ice advantage, the team recorded 59 percent of shooting attempts and 62 percent of expected goals when the Wisconsin kid was on the ice. It’s something that should give Ducharme a zero break to play Caufield on a regular shift instead of putting him under cover.
The coach said on Sunday that the preparation leading up to Caufield’s playoff debut – a week of training and two live views of that series – only strengthened his willingness to rely on him.
“We have depth and we have prepared ourselves so that everyone can come in and make their contribution,” said Ducharme. “Obviously being at home we can have better control of the clashes on the other side, so if he’s in uniform he won’t just be on the power play because, as we saw (Saturday), you might have one. in a game. “
Caufield doesn’t just dress, he plays a leading role and seems unfazed by the pressure that comes with it.
“I think there is a lot more excitement than nerves,” he said. “When it gets closer to game time you start to feel it, but obviously it’s a playoff game. Very intense. You have to be ready to go, you have to compete and I have prepared for all of these things. Being able to watch makes me feel a lot more prepared for tonight. Obviously, I can’t wait to get my feet wet in this game tonight, and I hope I can pull it off.
Ducharme is convinced he will.
“We love his speed, we know he’s a guy who can shoot fast and score goals,” said the coach. “At the same time, I think he could see the difference between what he saw in his last games of the season and the first two playoff games not being the same. We feel he is ready to enter.
Having racked up more goals than Auston Matthews, Phil Kessel or any other great player to play with the USNTDP, having dominated the NCAA and winning the Hobey Baker Award, having made his professional debut with winning goals for the Rocket de Laval of the AHL and after scoring two overtime winners – and a few more goals – with the Canadiens, the 15th overall pick in the 2019 draft arrives on hockey’s biggest stage.
The timing couldn’t be more fitting.