When the puck came to the five-foot-nine, 184-pounder, he knew exactly what do with it. Gallagher took one shot and followed up on the rebound to stuff the puck in from the goalmouth and collect his 157th goal and 302nd point in what was his 500th game in a league few people ever thought he’d make it to.
It took all of 22 seconds for him to score the type of goal he’s basically patented since he made his National Hockey League debut in 2013. The 27-year-old has managed to find the back of the net from further away in back-to-back 30-goal campaigns over the last two years. As Canadiens goaltender Carey Price joked on Tuesday, “He’s extended his range from six inches.”
But not on this one. No, this one, which helped the Canadiens win 4-1, was an example of Gallagher doing what he does best.
“I thought it was fitting, actually,” said Price. “He was right in the spot where he’s earned it. I’m not surprised.”
As Canadiens coach Claude Julien put it after the game, Gallagher has always known how his bread would be buttered in this league and how he’d get this far along as a former fifth-round pick. Even if many people doubted he’d last too long playing his rough-and-tumble, rambunctious and fearless style.
“I heard a lot of that, but it never weighed on me. I’ve always known I have to play the game a certain way to be successful,” Gallagher said earlier Wednesday. “If I tried to change my game, I wouldn’t be very good. I’d have been out of this league quicker than 200 games. This is the only way for me to really play. That’s why I put in the work that I do in the summer, so that hopefully my body can hold up and withstand the punishment it’s going to take. It’s a physical sport, it’s just part of it, but it’s not really something you can keep in your mind. You just have to go out and play.”
It’s in his image that these Canadiens are built. They’re small and fast, gritty and in your face, and they never quit.
They’re a lot like the team they played against on Wednesday.
The Coyotes came into this contest with a 7-1-1 record over their last nine games and having beaten some of the NHL’s top teams—the Vegas Golden Knights and Nashville Predators among them. They had capped a four-game road trip against Eastern Conference teams with a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the 9-2-1 Buffalo Sabres on Monday.
And then Gallagher made it an uphill climb for the Coyotes right off the hop with his first-shift goal.
There he was again, stirring up a ruckus in front of Raanta when Shea Weber blasted a one-timer through to give the Canadiens a 2-0 lead 24 seconds into the second period.
And in the third, after former Coyote Nick Cousins made it 3-0 Canadiens and Arizona’s Jakob Chychrun responded to make it 3-1, it was Gallagher putting momentum back on Montreal’s side by earning a couple of hard-fought scoring chances.
They were his fourth and fifth opportunities of the game. He led in that category—he usually does—just as he led in shot attempts (8). And the Canadiens’ assistant captain just kept pressing, keeping his teammates on their toes.
It was a typical Gallagher performance, not unlike most of the 499 that have come before it. It was the type of performance he always believed he’d be capable of delivering at this level.
“I told people I was going to play in the NHL from as young as I can remember,” he said. “When I first started playing hockey, that was what was on my mind at all times. Without being arrogant or cocky, I think I had to have that confidence to it. That was always my belief. At the same time, I think my parents did a good job of making me stay focused. It was never about playing in the NHL when I was in peewee hockey; it was about being a good player for your team in peewee and have those good habits and not get too far ahead of yourself. In the back of my mind, though, the goal was always to play in the NHL.”
Gallagher has been inspiring his teammates ever since he arrived in this league, and Wednesday’s game was just another example of him doing exactly that.
It was a game that was on the rocks at 3-1 with a little over 15 minutes to go, but it was early in the 12th minute of the third period that Jonathan Drouin scored his sixth goal of the season and provided the insurance the Canadiens needed to in order to win it.
The goal came right from where Gallagher had notched his in the first period.
“It was one of those Gally goals,” said Drouin. “I’ve got to get a few of them in my game this year.”