SUNRISE - Young guns Artturi Lehkonen and Charlie Lindgren stole the show on Monday night as the Canadiens claimed the Atlantic Division crown.
While Lehkonen notched his 15th and 16th goals of the season in the third period - the first of which proved to be the game-winner - Lindgren turned aside 31 shots in a 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center.
It marked the second time in three seasons that the Canadiens locked up the Atlantic title, which came courtesy of their fifth straight win. It was also the 19th time in franchise history that they managed to reach the 100-point mark, upping their point haul to 101 points with just three games remaining on the schedule.
Video: Canadiens clinch first in Atlantic with 4-1 win
"When you clinch the spot, it's always good news. Now, we've just got to keep building our game towards the playoffs," said Lehkonen, who now has 25 points in 70 games following his three-point effort in South Florida, which also included an assist. "I'm just trying to help the team any way I can, and today I was fortunate enough to get a couple of bounces. It was a good win for us."
It certainly was, and the 21-year-old Finnish forward's clutch performance only confirmed what those around him have been saying since he cracked the roster last fall - Lehkonen has serious game, and it will only get better as time marches on.
"His ceiling is going to be pretty high. There's a lot of room for him to improve, especially at that age, but for him to come out and play at that age, and be such a big part of the team, you don't see that too often," said captain Max Pacioretty, who extended his point streak to five games on Monday night with his 32nd assist of the year. "The best part about it is that he's so open to getting better and learning the game to improve. I'm very impressed with his effort [on Monday], but more so the entire season."
Video: Artturi Lehkonen on his three-point night
Likewise, head coach Claude Julien has quickly realized that Lehkonen really is a particularly special player.
"I keep saying that he's someone who is playing beyond his years - from a maturity standpoint and as a player," praised Julien. "He has a good feel for the game and he reads the game well, with and without the puck. It's rare to see players his age with so much skill. He's playing like an experienced player, a veteran."
In just his second-ever NHL start - and his first since April 7, 2016 - Lindgren played like a veteran, too, most notably during the second period when the Panthers outshot the Canadiens by a 15-6 margin, but only managed to solve him once. That kept things tied up at one through 40 minutes of play, before Julien's troops scored three times in the third to seal the deal.
"I felt pretty relaxed. Nervous before the game, but once it gets going, you go out and play. That's the best part about hockey. I felt like I played pretty calm," said the 23-year-old netminder, who was recalled from the AHL's St. John's IceCaps last week when Al Montoya went down with a lower-body injury. "I think the team is truly on a mission. It's a good bunch in here. They're dialed in and focused. It made my job pretty easy."
Video: Charlie Lindgren on Monday night's win
And, it was an excellent indicator to Julien that the Canadiens have themselves another incredibly talented youngster in the fold who can deliver the goods when called upon.
"He was really good. It was the first time that I saw him play. He was very solid in the second period when we weren't very good. He defended well and he gave us a chance to win," said Julien. "I'm happy that the guys took charge of the situation in the third and helped him get a win."