Jake Evans is unsung hero in Canadiens’ crucial win over Flames


Forward makes most of chance to get back into lineup and plays instrumental role in Calgary as Habs pad lead for final playoff berth.

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He’s 55, long since retired from his NHL career — including a stint with the Canadiens — but Sergio Momesso remembers what it was like to be young, fresh and full of energy.

“There were times when the older guys were a little tired,” Momesso, a TSN 690 radio analyst on Canadiens games, remembered Tuesday. “Guys like Bob Gainey and Larry Robinson would come up to us — myself, Claude Lemieux, Stéphane Richer and Shayne Corson — and say ‘we need your young legs. We need you tonight.’

“That’s what Jake Evans brought to them (Monday) night.”

While it was 20-year-old Cole Caufield, a former first-round draft choice making his Canadiens debut, who grabbed the spotlight and headlines in Montreal’s 2-1 victory at Calgary, Evans, 24, also was instrumental in the win while flying under the radar.

A seventh-round (207th overall) Canadiens draft choice in 2014, Evans replaced Caufield on the top line, with Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar, during the third period and took some crucial faceoffs.

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“I thought he played one of his best games under the circumstances,” said Momesso, who played for five NHL teams over 13 seasons. “He plays smart. He was forcing the play and making good defensive plays. But he was also up on the forecheck, making sure Calgary wasn’t coming back.

“He was there at the end. He didn’t win the last (faceoff), but made a great play to get it out. He was doing the job at the end of the game. They needed someone else to step up — and he did.”

Evans was dressed for the second consecutive game as an emergency recall, with Jonathan Drouin battling an illness and Paul Byron injured. That’s also how Caufield was inserted, although his presence came at the expense of defenceman Alexander Romanov, who was placed on the taxi squad.

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While Romanov, undoubtedly a key cog for the Canadiens, drew the short straw because of salary-cap restrictions, it also allowed interim head coach Dominique Ducharme to play with the preferred 12 forwards and six defencemen. And against a Flames team that forechecks and stymies the opposition, Ducharme said that was key.

“It was really important to have 12 and six,” Ducharme said Monday night. “You saw the type of game. It needed energy and, really, we needed our four lines tonight. Having just one guy missing up front makes a big difference on the energy of the team.”

Evans spent most of his first two pro seasons in the minors, playing for the AHL’s Laval Rocket — as opposed to Caufield, who played only two games there before joining the taxi squad and accompanying the Canadiens on last week’s five-game swing through Alberta.

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Tuesday was considered a travel day for the Canadiens, with no media availability, so there’s no way of knowing what roster changes might be coming when Montreal launches a four-game homestand Wednesday (8 p.m., SNE, SNO, SNP, SN360, RDS, TSN Radio 690, 98.5 FM) against Toronto.

But if Drouin or Byron are ready to return, it will come at the expense of Caufield or Evans. The Canadiens have one recall remaining this season, which might be used on Romanov.

Evans, who started Monday’s game at right wing with Artturi Lehkonen and Eric Staal, played 13:34 against the Flames, had one shot, one block and won 43 per cent of his faceoffs. He has two goals and eight points through 38 games.

“He played a solid game and made some small plays,” Ducharme said of Evans. “Sometimes you don’t see (them) on the scoresheet, but those little plays, when you pile them up at times, it makes a difference. That’s what we want to do as a team — pile up those small plays. Tonight, he was piling them up.”

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Added captain Shea Weber: “He was great, especially late in the game. You need to win faceoffs at crucial times. He didn’t get the last one, but I thought he did great. Over the course of the whole game, I thought he did great things.”

While the Canadiens lead Calgary by six points, and hold a game in hand, in the chase for the fourth and final playoff berth in the North Division, things are far from settled. Montreal has a potentially more difficult schedule than the Flames, including four games against Toronto, two with Edmonton and one against Winnipeg. They also meet Ottawa twice and the Senators, although last in the division, have played Montreal tough.

“There’s no time to sit back,” Weber said. “We have to keep going.”

Meanwhile, injured winger Brendan Gallagher, who has missed 12 games with a fractured right thumb, reportedly skated alone on Tuesday. The Canadiens hope he returns for the playoffs — provided they qualify.

hzurkowsky@postmedia.com

twitter.com/HerbZurkowsky1

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