The playoffs when the amount of hitting intensifies

Cole Caufield celebrated the Montreal Canadiens’ first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 28 years by munching on a slice of pizza supplied by teammate Phillip Danault on Thursday, after the Canadiens eliminated the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 6 of the Stanley Glass Semifinals.

All the while, Caufield’s long-time critics were eating their words.

Caufield is accomplishing exactly that and has become one of the best feel-good stories of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, leading all rookies with nine points (four goals, five assists) in 15 games.

The Canadiens will play at the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the best-of-7 Cup Final on Monday.

Caufield has heard the same doubts about his game since he was a boy playing small hockey in his native Stevens Point, Wisconsin. He’s too small (5-foot-7, 165 pounds). He’s as well fragile. He’ll never hold up to the physical rigors of the NHL, especially during the playoffs when the amount of hitting intensifies.

His response has been to emerge as one of the Canadiens’ most dynamic players and a key cog in their first check out to the Final since 1993, when they defeated the Los Angeles Kings in five online games to win the Glass. The most impressive part is he offers gotten better as the playoffs have gone on.

In the Stanley Cup First Round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Caufield had one assist in five games. He added three assists in Montreal’s second-round sweep of the Winnipeg Jets.

The 20-year-old’s production continued to increase against the Golden Knights. He have scored five points (four goals, one assist), and his spectacular goal in the second period helped the Canadiens to a series-clinching 3-2 overtime win in Video game 6 at Bell Centre in Montreal.

Though many observers have been surprised at Caufield’s rapid ascension, former NHL forward Tony Granato, his coach at the University of Wisconsin, is anything but.

He has done it with a chip upon his shoulder.

Caufield was selected by the Canadiens with the No. 15 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. He was considered one of the most gifted offensive players obtainable after finishing the 2018-19 time of year with the USA Hockey National Team Development System Under-18 squad with with 100 factors (72 goals, 28 assists) in 64 video games. His goals total marked an NTDP record, surpassing the 55 goals center Auston Matthews, now with the Maple Leafs, scored in 2014-15.

Granato said one of the factors that drives Caufield is showing the hockey world that he should have been selected higher.