BROSSARD, Quebec — Before the Bruins-Canadiens series, there was a lot of discussion about how Brendan Gallagher was the Habs’ answer to Boston’s Brad Marchand.
The 22-year-old right wing enjoys chirping on the ice and relishes being a pest that gets under opponents’ skin. But Gallagher also is a spark plug.
Early in Game 3 Tuesday night at the Bell Centre, coach Michel Therrien elevated Gallagher to the top line with left wing Max Pacioretty and center David Desharnais. Although the combination didn’t yield points in tMontreal’s 4-2 victory, the trio was very effective and generated seven of the team’s 26 shots on goal.
It also meant moving Thomas Vanek to a line with center Tomas Plekanec and left wing Michael Bournival, which increased the pressure on the Bruins by matching up with the Patrice Bergeron line and who defenseman Zdeno Chara matched up against.
Therrien doesn’t view Gallagher as a guy who is needed to get other players on the offensive right track even though he seems to do that.
“I don’t see it that he’s there to fix problems,’’ said Therrien. “We like the way he competes, we like the way he plays. He brings energy [to] any line we’re going to put him [with] out there. From a coaching standpoint, at times you have to react and make an adjustment and this is the only thing we [did on Tuesday]. I like Gallagher’s intensity. I liked that line, I thought they [did] a lot of good things, they were skating, they were playing well, they were playing the right way. I like the combinations of all our lines [in Game 3].’’
In fact, though, Gallagher seems to find his way back to Pacioretty and Desharnais when those two are struggling to score. One Montreal writer dubbed him “a slump buster.’’
“They probably haven’t been scoring as much as they’d like but I don’t think you can totally say they’re in a slump,’’ countered Gallagher. “I think they’ve been doing a lot of things that have helped this team. Their defensive game has been very good. They haven’t been on the ice for very many goals at all. There’s lots of ways you can contribute in a game and scoring goals is just one of them. Certainly that is part of our role but I think there are other things you can do to feel like you contributed, too.’’
Gallagher enjoyed being back on the top line but is happy to fulfill any of the coaches’ wishes.
“They’re two very good players and it’s easy for me to do my job, which is try to work and open up open ice for them,’’ said Gallagher. “You’re certainly put on the ice in different positions and you’re given different responsibilities by the coaching staff but my game is to always stay the same no matter who I’m with or where I’m playing. For me to be successful, I need to play a certain way. It’s kind of all I focus on.’’
Gallagher said it was a good morale booster for the Canadiens to take their second lead in the best-of-seven series but they’ve believed in themselves all year long.
“Our confidence has always been there,’’ he said. “It was never an issue. We’re a very confident bunch, we know what we’re capable of doing and what we’ve done and the way we need to play to be successful.’’
Playing with the lead certainly hasn’t hurt. Although the Bruins staged third-period comebacks in the first two games, the first of which went to overtime with the Habs winning in the second extra frame, the Canadiens didn’t fold in Game 3.
“Just scoring the first goal and getting up in the game was big for our group and when you can play with a lead, you kind of settle into your comfort zone so that was big for us,’’ said Gallagher.
Despite giving up a third-period goal in Game 3, which cut their lead to 3-2 with 2 minutes, 16 seconds left in regulation, Gallagher said it wasn’t a repeat of Game 2, when the Bruins erased a 3-1 deficit on the way to a 5-3 win.
“They scored a third-period goal late but we were playing a pretty good period,’’ he said. “We came out and other the first couple of shifts when we were in our own zone a lot, we settled in and it was more of an even period. We spent some time in their zone. That’s how you have to play with a lead, you have to be aggressive and make sure they’re coming 200 feet if they want to score.’’
Therrien met with the players in question to discuss the line changes and Gallagher said the coach’s message was clear.
“He wanted me to use my speed, and play aggressive,’’ said Gallagher. “Kind of the only message was be hard on the puck and make sure it’s tough for guys to play against me and that’s what I tried to do.’’