Canadiens Game Day: Habs’ Phillip Danault celebrates win with a pizza


Centre played a key role in Canadiens eliminating Leafs by limiting Auston Matthews to one goal during seven-game series

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Phillip Danault showed up for his postgame Zoom conference with a pizza after the Canadiens eliminated the Maple Leafs with a 3-1 victory in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series Monday night in Toronto.

Being matched up against the Leafs’ Auston Matthews for seven straight games and limiting him to one goal must make a guy hungry.

Matthews led the NHL with 41 goals in 52 games this season, but his only goal in this series came in Game 2, to go along with four assists. Matthews’s linemate Mitch Marner failed to score a goal in the series and had four assists after finishing fourth in NHL scoring during the regular season with 20-47-67 totals in 55 games.

Danault only had one assist in the series, but played a huge role in the Canadiens advancing to the North Division final against the Jets, which will start Wednesday night in Winnipeg (7:30 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

Brendan Gallagher, Corey Perry (power play) and Tyler Toffoli scored for the Canadiens, while goalie Carey Price stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced. The Leafs’ William Nylander spoiled Price’s shutout bid when he scored his fifth goal of the series with only 1:36 left in the third period.

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After the game, when Gallagher was asked about his linemate Danault’s performance in the series, he said: “I’m really happy you asked that. I hope everyone realizes how important Phil is and how good of a series he had. I talked about Mathews and Marner and how difficult they are to play against. Phil had that matchup every single shift of this series. We got Pricey back there. We got (defencemen) Weby (Shea Weber) and Benny (Ben Chiarot) and Petey (Jeff Petry) and Eddie (Joel Edmundson) going up against them, but Phil is equally as big in that. The responsibility that we put on him, especially with the young guys up the middle (Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi).

“The matchups he gets, I just have so much respect for Phil and what he’s able to do,” Gallagher added. “I obviously love playing with him. He stepped up for us. He enjoyed the challenge as well. You see him right now he has the biggest smile of anyone on his face. He doesn’t have to get points, he just wants to win. I know he realizes — and I hope everyone else does — just how important he was to us in the series.”

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Future uncertain for Danault

Danault can become an unrestricted free agent during the offseason, so Game 7 had the possibility of being his last game with the Canadiens if they lost.

When asked what was going through his mind before the game, Danault said: “I think same thing as when we were down 3-1 (in the series). I looked at myself in the mirror when we were down 3-1 and I wanted to step up and do better. I knew I could do better and push myself to a limit and I knew I could be a game-changer for my team. So I really approached (Game 7) the same way as I did for the last three games.

“We know we can play against big players,” Danault added. “Everyone did his job. That’s how we won and Pricey was solid every single night giving us a chance and the D-men were moving the puck. I think it’s a lot of pride here. We have a lot of pride in that dressing room and we definitely want to get more.”

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Respect for Leafs

For the Canadiens, this marks the first time they have won a first-round playoff series since beating the Ottawa Senators in 2015.

The Leafs haven’t won a first-round playoff series since beating the Senators in 2004. The headline on the front page of Tuesday’s Toronto Sun was: “RUNNING CHOKE”.

“I consider myself a little bit of an experienced guy now,” Gallagher said. “You seem to realize these playoff series are hard to win. First off, that’s a hell of a hockey team on the other side. They competed hard. They really pushed us to the brink and we had to find out a lot about ourselves. So we got nothing but respect for that side. It was a chippy series, but there’s a lot of respect for those guys over there and for our team to enjoy this win. We’ll continue to grow continue to build. We’re on to Winnipeg to hopefully do it again.”

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Gallagher also spoke about the respect he has for Matthews and Marner.

“You come out of these playoff series and you have different levels of respect once you play players seven games in a row,” Gallagher said. “Those two guys in general, for me personally, it’s one of the hardest matchups I’ve ever had. They have the puck so much, they do so many good things, so we really had to commit so much to the defensive side of it. … They just demand it.

“They come away, they only scored one goal,” Gallagher added. “We did everything we could to limit their scoring chances. They still had a ton and Pricey was there to bail us out. They’re two unbelievable players. You come out of these things with a lot of respect. I know the media’s probably going to be hard on them, but those two guys had an unbelievable year. This series wasn’t easy, but we found a way and it was nice to move on.”

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Matthews had two goals in five postseason games last year when the Leafs were eliminated by Columbus in the qualifying round, while Marner failed to score against the Blue Jackets.

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First goal for Gallagher

Gallagher’s goal on a shot Leafs goalie Jack Campbell should have stopped was his first of the series and opened the scoring at 3:02 of the second period.

Last season, Gallagher had only one goal in nine postseason games.

“You talk about learning from experiences,” he said. “I think last year going through this I kind of went through the same thing. I didn’t love the way I handled it. I kind of let the frustration seep in. I’ve always been a guy that is more about the process than the result. I thought last year in the playoffs I kind of let the result get ahead of the process. I knew the chances were there (this series). I finally hit a spot. I just kept telling myself game after game you’re going to have to score a big one. You have to get one for these guys, they’re doing great. I’m going to have to find a way to chip in here at some point and get a big one. So it’s nice to get the win. I’m happy it came soon enough.”

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Saving their jobs?

With the first-round upset win over the Maple Leafs you have to think there’s now a very good chance Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin and interim head coach Dominique Ducharme will be back next season.

Ducharme made some controversial decisions during this series, including making Jesperi Kotkaniemi a healthy scratch for Game 1, Cole Caufield a healthy scratch for Games 1 and 2, and making Alexander Romanov a healthy scratch for all seven games.

“Every decision — sometimes it’s not an easy decision, but that’s our job as a coach to be making those decisions,” Ducharme said after Game 7. “I think I talked about it the first day in Winnipeg when I was named the head coach that we had and I had 8 million assistant coaches. So everyone’s got their opinion but, at the end of the day, we’re inside, we’re with those guys every day. We talk together as a group, as staff, and I make the final decision. That’s the way it works and we’ll keep doing that.”

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Since taking over from Claude Julien in February, Ducharme has spoken repeatedly about the new system he has been trying to put in place that puts the emphasis on puck support all over the ice and working as a five-man unit. That system worked to perfection in Game 7 with Price calling it “the best team game that we’ve played this season.”

“There was a lot of good things tonight,” Ducharme said. “I thought in the last three games there were a lot of good things. I really like the way the guys handled themselves and the engagement they put in. You can have all the systems in the world. Obviously, the engagement, the commitment to push yourself and sometimes get out of your comfort zone and that’s what we did tonight. It’s harder to do and that’s what we did the last three games. A lot of good things in those three games and tonight I thought probably the best of the three.”

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Off to Winnipeg

The Canadiens didn’t have much time to celebrate Monday’s victory because they were headed to the airport shortly after the game for a flight to Winnipeg.

“We won a series,” Ducharme said. “We’re happy, we’re happy about that. But we want more. After tonight you need to turn the page. Take all the good that made us have success and bring that to the next one. So it’s not a time to celebrate for a few days. We enjoy it tonight and we’ll be preparing tomorrow.”

Some stats

The Leafs outshot the Canadiens 31-23, outhit them 32-30 and won 51 per cent of the faceoffs. The Canadiens went 1-for-2 on the power play, while the Leafs went 0-for-2.

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Chiarot led the Canadiens in ice time with 27:58, followed by Weber with 25:50 and Petry wth 24:06. Danault led the forwards with 20:08, while Nick Suzuki had 17:52 and Jake Evans logged 17:37.

Gallagher led the Canadiens with four shots, while Joel Armia and Weber had three each. Armia had a team-leading five hits, while Weber and Petry had four each.

Danault went 15-11 on faceoffs (58 per cent), Jesperi Kotkaniemi went 6-4 (60 per cent), Suzuki went 4-6 (40 per cent) and Staal went 1-4 (20 per cent).

The schedule

Here’s the complete schedule for the North Division final between the Canadiens and Jets:

Game 1: Wednesday, June 2: at Winnipeg, 7:30 p.m.
Game 2: Friday, June 4: at Winnipeg, 7:30 p.m.
Game 3: Sunday, June 6: at Montreal, 6 p.m.
Game 4: Monday, June 7: at Montreal, TBD
x-Game 5: Wednesday, June 9: at Winnipeg, TBD
x-Game 6: Friday, June 11: at Montreal, TBD
x-Game 7: Sunday, June 13: at Winnipeg, TBD
x-if necessary

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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