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For Kotkaniemi, this unexpected appearance in the playoffs is a reset. When the NHL halted play on March 12, he was sidelined by a spleen injury after being sent to the AHL a month earlier. He returned to camp with some added muscle and more jump to his skating and he earned his spot on the third line.
As for Suzuki, he is showing why he was regarded as the prize in the deal which sent Max Pacioretty to Vegas two years ago.
He overcame a rocky start Saturday to lead all forwards in ice time and turned in a strong effort on both ends of the ice.
“As a line we had a rough start, we were trapped in the D zone a lot but the coaching staff was really on and talking about being ready and our time would come,” said Suzuki. “Just keep working. We have enough skill on that line to generate a lot of offence,”
Suzuki scored in the second period but his work as a penalty-killer in the third period was the highlight of his night. He joined with Shea Weber and Petry to kill a 5-on-3 Pittsburgh advantage for 1:32. He was pressed into the role because one of the players in the box was Phil Danault, the Canadiens’ best penalty-killing forward.
“We were limited in our faceoff guys and the draw was on the right side and we put him out there because not only did he give us the best chance to win the draw but he’s smart enough to handle the 5-on-3,” said Julien who looked like a genius when Suzuki won the draw against Sidney Crosby. “He’s cerebral and he figures things out quickly.”