MONTREAL — Cole Caufield doesn't cut an imposing figure on the ice.
He just comes up big when it matters most.
The diminutive rookie sniper scored at 4:43 of overtime — his second extra-time winner in 48 hours — after Montreal tied it late as the Canadiens defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 in a potential North Division playoff preview Monday.
"The feeling doesn't get old," said Caufield, who also buried the decisive OT chance in Saturday's 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators.
"And it never will."
Playing just his fifth NHL game, the five-foot-seven, 162-pound winger took a pass from Jeff Petry, just like he did in Saturday's 3-on-3 period, and fired off Jack Campbell's post and in with Joel Armia providing a screen.
"He's done it at all levels," Canadiens centre Nick Suzuki said of Caufield's goal-scoring prowess. "It's a big moment, playing against the Leafs, back-to-back OT winners ... it's decent."
The reigning Hobey Baker Award winner as the top player in U.S. college hockey, Caufield found the back of the net 30 times in 31 games at the University of Wisconsin this season before signing an entry-level deal with the team that drafted him 15th overall in 2019.
"Every goal in overtime is huge," said Phillip Danault, who bagged Montreal's equalizer at the side of the net with under a minute to go in regulation, before adding with a grin: "I don't know which one is his favourite.
"We've got to ask him."
Tyler Toffoli had the other goal in regulation for Montreal (24-18-9), which has won three in a row and now sits tied with the free-falling Winnipeg Jets for third in the division. Jake Allen made 27 stops, while Petry and Suzuki added three assists each.
Auston Matthews, with his league-leading 39th of the season, and Morgan Rielly replied for Toronto (33-13-6), which saw its five-game winning streak come to an end.
"We played well enough to win," said Campbell, who finished with 20 saves, including a handful of the highlight-reel variety. "That comes down to just a fluky goal to tie it up and send it into overtime.
"I'm not going to overthink it."
Toronto lost veteran forward Nick Foligno to a lower-body injury right before Matthews scored late in the second, but head coach Sheldon Keefe didn't have an update post-game.
"We played a good game at 5 on 5," Keefe added. "We find a way to get two goals at 5 on 5. We don't give up any.
"Special teams are the big difference in the game. Our penalty kill, power play, 5 on 6, 3 on 3 ... those are the situations that cost us."
The first-place Leafs and Canadiens meet twice more this week in Toronto, although Montreal has to first deal with the Senators in Ottawa on Wednesday.
The Canadiens — once again minus injured No. 1 goalie Carey Price, captain Shea Weber, as well as forwards Tomas Tatar, Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher, while winger Jonathan Drouin remains out for personal reasons — have taken advantage of seven straight regulation losses from Winnipeg to climb into a tie for third in the North.
"There's still positions up for grabs," Suzuki said. "We're trying to put ourselves in the best position possible. The Jets are struggling a bit right now.
"We need to keep going and focus on ourselves."
Down 2-1 late in the third, Danault jammed home his fifth between Campbell and his near post with 51.8 seconds left in regulation after beating Matthews on an offensive zone faceoff to set up a wild, knife-edged OT.
Toffoli missed the net on a breakaway, Matthews and Mitch Marner couldn't connect on a 2-on-0, and John Tavares hit the post for Toronto before Caufield won it.
"Off to a wonderful start," Danault said of his young teammate. "I don't want to put too much pressure on him. He knows his job, he's doing well. He's dynamic, he's fast.
"I really like his game, and cherries on a sundae with two goals in overtime."
Although the players had left the ice, Caufield waited in the tunnel leading to Montreal's locker room after being mobbed by teammates as the officials took a second look on their video monitor to make sure Armia didn't interfere with Campbell.
"Everybody left the rink," Caufield said with a smile. "There wasn't too much worry."
Matthews snapped a 1-1 tie with 2:39 left in the second, tipping Jake Muzzin's point shot past Allen as he battled in front. The goal was Matthews' sixth in as many contests, 18th in his last 18 games, and 18th in 22 career outings versus the Canadiens.
Toffoli got Montreal on the board earlier in the period on a power play when he beat Campbell for his 28th at 1:55 on Toronto's third penalty of the night. The visitors got their first man advantage shortly thereafter, but Campbell had to make a big stop off Artturi Lehkonen following a Rasmus Sandin turnover.
Allen stoned William Nylander on a breakaway later in the period, but Matthews wouldn't be denied on his deflection.
Montreal looked to push in the third, with Campbell denying Ben Chiarot on a delayed penalty before stopping Josh Anderson at the side of his net, but was fooled on Danault's effort down low in the final minute.
Rielly opened the scoring at 4:07 of the first on a point shot through a screen for his fifth goal of the campaign and first in 13 games.
Montreal, which has trailed in every game of its current winning streak, came close to getting on the board later in the period when Caufield rang a shot off Campbell's crossbar on the power play — a warning of things to come from the 20-year-old goal poacher.
"It's a challenging game," Caufield said of his first moments in the NHL. "It's something that doesn't come easy at all. You've got to work for it and earn your spot and earn your trust with the guys. That's something you've got to respect about the game.
"It's been a lot of fun."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2021.
The Canadian Press