Before the series began, Nick Suzuki admitted he didn’t remember much of his time with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Find a 21-year-old more inclined to make you think revenge hasn’t been on his mind.
Suzuki, the former No. 13 overall pick from Vegas in 2017, recorded a goal and two assists to lead the Montreal Canadiens to a dominant 4-1 victory in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday.
Montreal leads the series 3-2, will look to end the series at Bell Centre on Thursday, and look to return to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993.
“I thought we played a great 60 minutes,” Suzuki said. “We just stayed under control. They had their chances. We played a great team game, all four lines were contributing, and that’s how we’ve got to play next game.”
In a series where the Golden Knights’ top six has gone quiet and their offense has shriveled up in the final four for the second consecutive postseason, Vegas probably wishes it had Suzuki in its back pocket right about now.
Suzuki has five points in the past three games after going without one in Games 1 and 2. It’s also the quality of the points; three of his assists have been primary, with two leading to breakaway goals.
Suzuki is a natural center with a wicked shot. But his playmaking sense and passing ability is what made the Canadiens want him as the main return in the trade involving Max Pacioretty in 2018. It’s only his second postseason, but Suzuki isn’t too overwhelmed by the moment. He’s centering the best top line in this series — with Tyler Toffoli and fellow rookie Cole Caufield — and is doing it with ease.
“Nick is definitely a great young player, and really important center for us,” said Canadiens interim coach Luke Richardson. “Nick is sneaky strong and physical. His game, everyone thinks he’s sly and a smart playmaker, which he is. If you watch a game live, he competes and he’s competitive, and sneaky physical as well. I’m sure it irritates the other team throughout the game, drawing attention to himself.”
Suzuki is an artist on skates, swiftly gliding his brush across the canvas and creating beautiful works.
Game 5, in the building he should’ve been playing in all along, was his Mona Lisa.
It starts with the 200-foot game; the sound defense that is likely aided by Montreal’s style of play. He never seems out of position in the defensive zone. The minute he makes a play defensively, he’s already looking ahead on the counter-attack.
Vegas started to get its legs going in the second period, per usual, while down 1-0. Jonathan Marchessault was going to tee up a shot from the left circle, but Suzuki got a stick in the lane to break up the potential attempt. Montreal comes back with Suzuki leading the rush. He draws Alex Pietrangelo and Chandler Stephenson to the half boards, with Eric Staal jumping in late. The veteran stands alone in the slot, rips a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury for the 2-0 lead.
“I think he’s super competitive,” Staal said. “His compete level is really high. The skill set is there and the intelligence is there, but you need that extra level of competitiveness to make differences like he has been. That’s the number one thing I love about him. Nick’s pass was phenomenal and a great look to me.”
Suzuki made his presence felt again 3:17 later, this time on a Montreal power play. Mark Stone entered the neutral zone with three Canadiens draped over him. The Vegas captain was likely trying to make a play, but played hero hockey instead. Suzuki forced a turnover at the Vegas blue line and chipped it to a streaking Corey Perry at the other blue line, with Caufield to his right. The veteran dropped it to the rookie, who finished a one-timer to make it 3-0.
In two plays, Suzuki ripped the collective soul out of the building he should be playing in right now. The alternate universe theory tells us he’d be on the wing with Cody Glass and they’d be teaming up to be the best young 1-2 tandem in the league.
Instead, Suzuki and Caufield have Canadiens fans seeing Lord Stanley, while Glass has been banished to the Vegas graveyard.
And as fate would have it, the Canadiens are one win away from an improbable appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. Suzuki, and former Vegas defenseman Jon Merrill, are one win away from the Final at their former club’s expense.
Meanwhile, the Golden Knights are searching for answers on why their $35.15 million top six has one goal through five games, all while getting outscored by two guys making less than $2 million combined.
What a weird sport this is.
“I think at the start of the playoffs, a lot of people counted us out,” Suzuki said. “I think just the belief in this group … We’re a really confident team right now.”