MONTREAL – One goal from Brendan Gallagher, two saves from Carey Price and two blocked shots from Jeff Petry gave the Montreal Canadiens a 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets Monday.
They were five plays that showed what kind of investment the Canadiens were willing to make to get two precious points in the standings, five plays that made the difference, five plays made at critical junctures of the game.
It started with Gallagher, who rushed down the right wing early in the fourth minute of the game and uncorked his team’s first shot on net. The wrister hummed at knee-level and beat Sergei Bobrovsky on the blocker side, giving the Canadiens a 1-0 lead.
The plucky winger has been the team’s most impactful player this season after struggling through the 64 games he played in 2016-17. Night after night he’s brought the Canadiens into the fight, when a year ago he spent most of his time on the ice fighting to gain any semblance of the player he had been through the first four seasons of his career.
Gallagher’s goal on Monday was his 10th of the season, equalling his total from last year. It was also his 200th NHL point.
“He’s been huge,” said Canadiens winger Andrew Shaw, who scored into an empty net with 1:24 to go. “He’s scoring big goals, he’s battling, he’s going to the net, he’s going to those dirty areas and winning those pucks. We’re loving it from him right now, and you know he’s going to keep doing it for us.”
The contribution from Price since he returned from a lower-body injury this past Saturday has been enormous. He shut out the Buffalo Sabres that night and made 37 saves on 38 shots against the Blue Jackets Monday.
But his saves, while the Canadiens were up 2-0 and killing a penalty early in the second period, were his biggest of the night.
Price slid over and stopped a point-blank shot from Pierre-Luc Dubois. The rebound came right back to Dubois, he had Price down and out on his belly, and the goaltender stretched out with his left pad and his glove and shut the door.
“Those stops build momentum,” said Shaw. “He made big-time saves, fought through the traffic and he earned us that win tonight.”
That hadn’t been the case through a 3-7-1 start to the season for Price, who struggled to come up with easy saves – let alone tough ones like the two that came off Dubois’ stick from in tight.
It was a rough start to the season for Petry, too.
With Andrei Markov leaving via free agency, taking his puck-moving skills to the KHL in the process, a lot of the onus was going to be on Petry to pick up the slack.
For whatever reason, he couldn’t find his game.
“I’d get a goal scored on me and beat myself up over it,” he said after logging a team-high 29:05 in Monday’s game. “I think I just needed to get back to doing something good early in the game, throw a hit or make a good breakout pass, and then just build off that.”
At the 8:10 mark of the first period, Petry threw a perfect pass over to Jonathan Drouin, who scored Montreal’s second goal on the power play. He did plenty of good after that, helping his team stem Columbus’ persistent forecheck, helping them break out of their zone, and generating three shot attempts.
But the two plays he made – while the Canadiens were shorthanded halfway through the game – stepping in front of successive shots from Zach Werenski and Oliver Bjorkstrand brought life to the Canadiens bench and made this what had to be considered his most complete game of the season.
“The things that he did tonight are things we’ve been talking about for a while with him,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien. “It’s not a secret he’s been having a difficult season, and confidence doesn’t just come back right away once you’ve lost it, but it seems as though he’s regained his confidence over the last three games in a row.
“We talked to him about moving his feet, about moving the puck quickly, about being capable of skating with the puck and about playing on his toes.”
Message received, and just at the right time – considering No. 1 defenceman Shea Weber’s absence due to a lower-body injury over the last four games.
It was a bonus to have Petry throw four hits in the game and block another shot on top of those two big ones on the penalty kill.
It was huge for the Canadiens to get that early goal from Gallagher, too. And the saves from Price early in the second are further evidence he’s back to being the guy they need to see.
As a result, the Canadiens are now only two points out of third place in the Atlantic, with three games coming up this week against division rivals Ottawa and Detroit.