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Underdog Canadiens look to finish off Penguins

The Montreal Canadiens have no illusions about their status as underdogs in their qualifying round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Yet with a victory in Game 4 on Friday in Toronto, they have a chance to finish off the Penguins in the best-of-five set and advance to the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Montreal, seeded 12th and last for the Eastern Conference qualifying round series, won Game 1 in overtime, fell in Game 2, then overcame a two-goal deficit with three unanswered goals Wednesday to take Game 3 by a 4-3 score and push the fifth-seeded Penguins — Stanley Cup winners in 2016 and 2017 — to the brink of elimination.

“We’ve just done it by working hard,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. “At the end of the day, we know where the experience is. The only way we can counter that is with our work ethic and our commitment and desire. We lack experience compared to the other team, but we’re trying to make it up with our compete level.”

The Penguins are indeed experienced, with a core of veterans who have two or more championship rings. They also are coming off a regular season that featured a large number of injuries, including longer-term problems to key players, some of them requiring surgery.

Given all that, Pittsburgh isn’t conceding anything.

“That’s how groups become stronger — you overcome challenges,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “This is one more that we’ve got to find a way to overcome.

“I would expect us to have a lot of urgency. Your back’s against the wall. You’ve got to win. It’s win or go home. Our guys understand what’s at stake. We’ve been here before. We just have to make sure we bring our best game.”

The Penguins looked to be doing that early in Game 3, taking a 3-1 lead that included two power-play goals in the span of 59 seconds after going 1-for-12 with the man-advantage through the first two games.

It might have seemed that Pittsburgh had taken command of the series at that point, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.

The Penguins’ most ballyhooed veteran, captain Sidney Crosby, has three Cup rings and has faced nearly every sort of situation in various postseason series. He does not find the scenario in this one to be foreign or insurmountable.

“I think it’s pretty clear-cut when you’re in that situation — you’ve got to go out there and find ways to win a hockey game,” Crosby said.

“When you get into this situation, ultimately it’s just about going out there and focusing on one game. We’ve done a lot of good things through the first three here. It’s about making sure that we get to that and trust that we’ll get the result we want.”

The Canadiens get that. They just don’t want to comply.

“You’re playing a team that knows exactly what to do to get back into a series,” Julien said. “We’re aware of that, so we need to be playing our best game come Game 4. We’ve got to be ready. We can’t get overconfident, but we’ve got to have the confidence to be able to close it off.”

–Field Level Media

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