MONTREAL – Alex Galchenyuk closed out the year in style on Saturday night, and Max Pacioretty followed suit.
The pair entered the season finale leading the Canadiens with 28 goals each, and by the time the final buzzer sounded on the 2015-16 campaign both had attained the 30-goal plateau in a 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Bell Centre.
It marked the first time two Canadiens players had scored at least 30 goals apiece in a single season since 2011-12, when Pacioretty and Erik Cole managed to accomplish the feat during a similarly tough year that also came to a premature end.
While Pacioretty reached the 30-goal mark for the third consecutive year – and the fourth time in his career – Galchenyuk made it happen for the very first time 57 days past his 22nd birthday.
In so doing, the Canadiens’ No. 27 became the third-youngest player in franchise history to register a 30-goal season behind Bernard Geoffrion and Stephane Richer, both of whom did it at the age of 21.
“I think it’s a good thing that I didn’t know about that. I didn’t want to put any extra thinking in my head. I tried not to think about it. When I was on the hot streak [back in late February and early March], I wasn’t thinking much,” explained Galchenyuk, referencing his outstanding point haul of 22 points – including 16 goals – in his last 22 games. “Then, 26, 27, and people start talking about whether I’m going to hit 30 goals or not. In the end, I just tried to go out there and play my game. But, at the same time, I’m glad I did it.”
It was the eighth time this season that Galchenyuk had compiled a multi-goal effort in the race to make 30 goals a reality. Earlier on Saturday, the Milwaukee, WI native claimed the Molson Cup as the team’s top player all season long, and he further solidified that standing with another two tallies to wrap up the season.
“I definitely improved this year. Coming in, I prepared well in the summer. I was excited coming in to play, try a new position and learn. I learned a lot of new things, and I think I matured a lot as a player. I think my offensive game got better and my defensive game also got better,” said Galchenyuk, one of four Canadiens players to play all 82 games this year while posting a career-high 56 points along the way. “At the same time, I’m only 22 years old. There still are a lot of areas to improve on. I like the direction I’m heading in right now.”
Pacioretty and fellow linemate Brendan Gallagher do, too. The trio combined to generate another eight points together on Saturday night, proving once again that they really do have something special to look forward to down the road.
“I feel really comfortable with the way our line played over the last month. As a duo, Chucky and I are getting more and more comfortable together. We know that we can improve the way we play, and right when Gally came back, he made our line more dynamic,” referencing Gallagher’s return to the lineup on April 2 in Florida. “It’s a real pleasure to play with them, and if we have the chance to play together again next year, we can definitely build on that.”
Galchenyuk is certainly in agreement there. As a unit of three, they’ve definitely got the ability to give the opposition fits and benefit from each other’s strong points.
“We’re hungry. We want to compete. We want to go out there and win games for our team. We want to be those leaders. We had pretty good chemistry towards the end of the year, which is a good, positive thing heading into the summer,” admitted Galchenyuk, who just completed his fourth NHL campaign. “At the same time, we’ve got to prepare well in the offseason. All three of us are looking forward to next year. It just sucks to end the season right now. It’s your last game without playoffs. It’s difficult. But, we’re going to learn from it and we’re excited for next year.”
As they should be, and so are the fans.
“The way the fans cheered at the end of the game was really special. I know that a few guys got pretty emotional. It definitely wasn’t the position that we wanted to be in, but we appreciate their support,” concluded Pacioretty. “They know what we had to battle through in terms of adversity. We know what we have to do to be better. I’m sure that we’ll remember that feeling all summer long.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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