Jesperi Kotkaniemi brought the house down on Thursday night.
The Finnish phenom sent the Bell Centre faithful into a frenzy not once, but twice in a dramatic 6-4 come-from-behind victory over the Washington Capitals.
After lighting the lamp for the very first time in his NHL career early in the opening frame, Kotkaniemi added the game-tying marker with just 3:04 remaining in regulation.
That first marker made the Pori native the second-youngest player in Canadiens franchise history to score his first NHL goal, doing so at 18 years and 118 days old.
Kotkaniemi was only 43 days older than Mario Tremblay when he accomplished the feat, with Tremblay setting the mark back in November 1974.
“I think it was a lucky one. I hope I will get more of those,” cracked Kotkaniemi, on his first-period tally that beat Capitals starter Braden Holtby. “It was just an amazing feeling.”
So, where is that “lucky” puck headed? It will likely have a special place back home in Scandinavia.
“I might give that to my mom,” revealed Kotkaniemi, whose mother, Kati, recently spent some quality time with him in Montreal. “I hope she’s not crying now. I hope she’s happy, too.”
Kati was likely crying tears of joy, of course, and enjoying every single moment of her son’s success!
Way to go, Jesperi!
Kotkaniemi already has some big fans in the Canadiens’ locker room, and he certainly was the topic of conversation after the final buzzer.
Brendan Gallagher, who scored twice against the Capitals and extended his goal-scoring streak to three straight games in the process, praised the young centerman’s relentlessness.
“For him to step up like that, when the team needed him, it’s a big goal at a massive time,” mentioned Gallagher, on Kotkaniemi’s equalizer. “He’s hanging around the net. He clearly wants to score. He’s a good player. He’s been able to show that in a short time. It’s only going to get better, and for us to be a part of this night for him, it’s pretty cool for us. It’s something that he’s going to remember for a long time. We’re glad we won the game so he can enjoy it.”
Max Domi was proud to share in the moment as well. After scoring the game-winner with 22 seconds to go, Domi heaped praise on the Habs’ third-overall selection.
“He’s been unbelievable since the start of the year. He’s a special player. He’s going to be a really good player for a long, long time in this League and for this team. We’re very lucky to have him and excited to see how he’s doing so well,” said Domi. “He’s only 18 years old, and the way he’s handled himself and the poise he’s had, it’s remarkable. He’s very respectful. We all love him as a teammate and as a player, too. He’s a great kid and he deserves it.”
Finns stick together
Kotkaniemi was a big fan of Joel Armia growing up, so it was only fitting that the pair combined forces on his first tally.
“I’m very happy for him,” said Armia, who also hails from Pori and played for the same SM-liiga squad as Kotkaniemi – Porin Ässät. “It was just a matter of time before he scored.”
Artturi Lehkonen was on the line, too, as head coach Claude Julien united the Finns together.
In the end, everything worked out for the best.
“I think we played well tonight. It was so easy to play with those guys,” said Kotkaniemi. “They’re so hard-working and they do a good job in the corners, so it’s easy to play with them.”
After the game, Finnish goaltender Antti Niemi joined the Habs’ forwards for a photo in the locker room to celebrate the occasion.