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Carey Price isn't the only Canadien at the top of his game


TORONTO — The Canadiens are one win away from upsetting the Pittsburgh Penguins in their best-of-five NHL qualifying round series and goaltender Carey Price has been the team’s most valuable player.

But he’s not the only reason why the Canadiens lead 2-1 going into Game 4 Friday (4 p.m., SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio).

The supporting cast has been outstanding — from youngsters Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi to the new Big Three on defence to the often underappreciated Phil Danault.

Danault was the key piece in head coach Claude Julien’s decision to shuffle his lines in Wednesday’s 4-3 victory. Julien took Danault off the top line and put him between Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron so he could concentrate on defence.

“When I’m at the top of my game, I’m strong defensively and the attack comes after,” Danault said prior to the Canadiens’ practice Thursday. “Sometimes by changing the lines, it can change big things. It was a big decision on Claude’s part (but) it paid off. I was playing a simpler style with Lehky and Pauly. It was good for me.”

“It’s sure that it will help him with these two wingers, two good defensive players,” said Julien. “Lehky has been playing great hockey since the start of the playoffs and we know what Paul brings. The change gave him some great wingers who complement him well.”

Danault was the workhorse for the Canadiens as he logged 22:38 of ice time, including some power-play time. Defencemen Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot and Jeff Petry were the only Montreal skaters with more ice time.

“Phil is so important to our team,” said Chiarot. “He generates offence and plays well defensively. He takes the big faceoffs against the best players in the world.”

In this series, that means Sidney Crosby and he has owned the Penguins superstar in the faceoff circle.

As the Canadiens were clinging to their 4-3 lead Wednesday, Danault won all three faceoffs against Crosby in the final three minutes of the game. He won 15 of 19 faceoffs in Game 3 and has won 29 of 46 in the series for a success rate of 63 per cent in the series.

Those faceoffs are important because if Crosby doesn’t win his draws, the Penguins are unable to work their offensive magic.

There were other key players in those dying minutes. Price made a save on Crosby and Ben Chiarot and Shea Weber never left the ice after Paul Byron took a penalty and left the Canadiens shorthanded with 3:32 to play. Chiarot actually spent the final 4:30 on the ice.

“It’s something I take seriously,” said Chiarot. “Being relied on to shut a game down is a big responsibility. I try to take pride in what I’m doing. … Obviously, with the amount of dangerous players they have, you have to be super aware of what’s going on around you. Desperation is the best word to describe it. You’re doing everything you have to do, laying your body on the line, to make sure you win.”

Julien will make at least one lineup change for Game 4. He said it was doubtful that Jake Evans would be ready. He left Game 3 after being driven into the boards by Brandon Tanev in the second period.

Brendan Gallagher, who tweaked his ankle in Game 2 Monday, will play.

“It’s the playoffs and I’ll be there as long as I think I can help the team,” Gallagher said Wednesday after he played 17:47 in Game 3. He had four shots on goal, a couple of hits and a blocked shot.

There has been speculation that Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan will switch goalies and go with Tristan Jarry after Matt Murray was beaten by Jeff Petry for the winning goal on a shot he should have stopped. But Sullivan ducked the question during his news conference Thursday.

phickey@postmedia.com

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