With just over four minutes left in Tuesday’s game, with his Montreal Canadiens sitting on a one-goal lead, Brendan Gallagher stepped on the ice with linemates Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar. He skated the width of the surface, wheeled into his right-wing position on the breakout, received a pass, and got absolutely levelled by Detroit Red Wings defenceman Nick Kronwall.
We’re talking pancaked.
But Gallagher hopped back up to his skates immediately. Then the puck was fired back into Montreal’s zone before it inevitably found him in the same position, and that’s when Kronwall caught him with another hit.
Gallagher held his ground this time, he collected the puck, and he made sure to get it deep into Red Wings territory before finally heading off the ice.
It doesn’t sound like much, but the whole sequence is a perfect example of the kind of leadership he provides the Canadiens on a nightly basis. He will sacrifice himself to make plays all over the ice, no matter the score. It’s the stuff his game is made of, the stuff that had him considered one of the favourites to wear the captain’s ‘C’ before it was etched onto Shea Weber’s jersey at the beginning of the season.
Gallagher showed it all game long but particularly on that sequence, and also on the one that saw him score a goal from his backside to put the Canadiens up 2-0 early in the second period, helping deliver a huge 3-2 win when his team needed it most.
Montreal was facing a third consecutive loss on a night that saw Atlantic Division rivals Boston and Buffalo hold their ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race with wins. The Canadiens were in tough against a rested Detroit team, having reached their hotel in the city at 4:00 am — roughly six hours after losing a hard-fought game to the Minnesota Wild at the Bell Centre.
It’s fair to say they’d have not won this game without Gallagher leading the way.
There were other contributing factors, as well. Let’s get to them.
Antti Niemi came up huge
Niemi was particularly strong in Period 1, when the Canadiens looked like they were skating in quick sand.
Niemi came up with nine saves and faced at least five quality scoring chances in the frame, surrendering no goals to keep the score 0-0 headed to intermission.
In the second period, he made 11 stops and was beat only by a perfect shot from Andreas Athanasiou, who took advantage of a Tatar turnover to carry a two-on-one towards Niemi before freezing everyone on the play by looking pass the whole way.
And in the third, Niemi saved another 10 shots and appeared in full control towards the end when Detroit tilted the ice towards Montreal’s zone.
Athanasiou beat him on a Red Wings power play early in the frame, but he was sensational to close.
Jeff Petry redeemed
Petry was responsible for the only goal against in the loss to Minnesota Monday when he made a fancy play coming out from behind his own net and got caught turning over the puck to Wild forward Mikael Granlund.
Petry tried to save the play by covering off Jordan Greenway, but he ended up pushing Greenway into Canadiens goaltender Carey Price while Granlund shimmied past the three of them and shoveled the puck into a wide open net.
So you can imagine how Petry felt when the puck came to him in the slot of the offensive zone with no defender in sight on the first shift of the third period Tuesday.
He corralled it, picked up his head, chose his spot and nailed it for what turned out to be the game-winner.
It was Petry’s ninth of the season, which put him just three goals away from the career-high he set over 82 games last year. It was also his 30th point in his 44th game, which sets him on pace to shatter his career-high of 44 last year.
Tatar with the assist(s)
It was Tatar who set up Petry’s goal, just as he did Gallagher’s.
That’s five points this season in two games against the team he started his career with and played seven seasons for.
Tatar now has 33 points in 44 games since coming over in the September trade that sent former Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights.
Back in a playoff spot… for now
A regulation loss for the New York Islanders to the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday helped the Canadiens retake the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference.
The Islanders hold three games in hand on the Canadiens. The Buffalo Sabres, who are one point up on Montreal, hold a game in hand, too. And the Boston Bruins, who are sitting three points ahead and in third place in the Atlantic, have one as well.