Cole Caufield scored the overtime winner and captain Nick Suzuki broke out with three points in Montreal’s 4-3 victory over Columbus on Thursday night.
But it was head coach Martin St. Louis’s first-intermission speech that resonated in the locker room post-game for spurring the Canadiens’ comeback.
With the Habs trailing 2-0 after an ugly first period, St. Louis carefully picked his spot to have a “very honest conversation” with his team.
Montreal responded with a goal on the first shift of the second period and the Canadiens were on their way.
“We were stubborn in the first period. As a coach, in my opinion, you have to be careful when to use your bullets,” St. Louis said. “I liked the response.”
Caufield, who had two assists and beat Elvis Merzlikins short-side with a wrist shot with 43 seconds left in the extra session, concurred with his coach post-game.
“That was all pretty much Marty, he fired us up, said some things that needed to be said,” said Caufield. “I really love how we responded there with the first-shift goal, obviously that kind of got us going. I thought from there we pretty much played a full 45 (minutes) after that.
“It was for sure a bounce-forward game today.”
Suzuki had a goal and two assists and Mike Matheson had a goal and an assist for Montreal (4-2-1). Sean Monahan also scored and Canadiens goaltender Samuel Montembeault stopped 31 shots.
Emil Bemstrom scored two power-play goals and Jack Roslovic pitched in a goal and two assists for the Blue Jackets (3-3-1). Merzlikins made 23 saves.
Columbus went 2-for-4 on the power play. Montreal was 2-for-5.
Montreal got some good fortune as the officials called a penalty on Columbus moments after a slash by Monahan broke Adam Fantilli’s stick and went unpenalized.
Matheson took advantage with a top-corner wrist shot on the power play to make it 3-2 heading into the third.
Although Columbus had multiple opportunities to ice the game with a power play at the end of the third, Blue Jackets head coach Pascal Vincent pointed to the non-call as a pivotal moment.
“The broken stick on Fantilli changed the momentum of the game,” he said. “But we had our chances, I mean four on three, we’ve got to finish there. It was a well-played game I think by both teams, a lot of speed, lots of intensity, physical game, obviously the penalties is something that changes the momentum.”
Fantilli, the No. 3 overall pick in last June’s draft, was held off the scoresheet after entering the game with goals in back-to-back games.
Tied 3-3 with under a minute remaining in the third period, Canadiens veteran Brendan Gallagher took a high-sticking penalty to put Montreal down a man.
Despite numerous opportunities from the Blue Jackets, the Canadiens managed to kill the penalty before Caufield notched the winner.
Monahan had deflected a Caufield pass into the back of the net on the power play midway through the third period to even the score.
Monahan nearly added another to put Montreal ahead with seven minutes left, but Merzlikins turned away his shot from the slot and delivered again a minute later with back-to-back breakaway saves on Josh Anderson and Caufield.
Columbus opened the scoring two minutes 46 seconds into the game when star forward Johnny Gaudreau found Roslovic in front of the net for a tap-in before Bemstrom doubled the lead on the man-advantage.
“Jack is playing extremely well for us, so is Bemstrom,” said Vincent. “There’s some connection there on the power play and those two guys have been working really hard in practices and it’s paying off.”
Suzuki’s goal came 27 seconds into the second period to cut Montreal’s deficit in half and bring the Bell Centre to life.
“I think I was happier than him,” Caufield said of watching his linemate break the ice. “He’s been playing well all year, obviously there’s some things that he’d probably like back but he’s our guy and we’re all proud of him.”
Bemstrom then broke through with his second for Columbus, finishing off a feed from Roslovic, before the Canadiens scored three unanswered goals en route to the win.
Welcome to The Show
Columbus forward Dmitri Voronkov made his NHL debut, drawing into the lineup in place of centre Kent Johnson, who was a healthy scratch.
The 23-year-old Voronkov is a six-foot-five 240-pounder from Russia. He quickly made an impression with a hit-from-behind on Canadiens tough guy Arber Xhekaj, leading to a fight between the two players.
Voronkov later added an assist on Bemstrom’s second goal for his first NHL point.
Montreal: Hosts the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday to complete a three-game homestand.
Columbus: Hosts the New York Islanders on Saturday.