TAMPA – Brendan Gallagher plays his heart out every time he hits the ice.
The 22-year-old did just that on Monday night, showcasing the drive, courage and spirit that has always earned him the respect of his teammates and coaches alike. Knowing that his hockey club needed some kind of spark down 3-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second period at Amalie Arena, Gallagher elected to take matters into his hands by dropping the gloves with Vladislav Namestnikov. Squaring off with opponents isn’t something the three-year NHL veteran is known for, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t willing to do it if it will provide his squad with some added momentum in a tough tilt.
“I guess it’s not something I do all that often. I feel like I have an understanding of how to do it and how to protect myself. It’s more so from my dad. That’s what he did when he played. He’s taught me enough, but it’s not something that I try to do too often,” offered Gallagher, who registered his third career NHL fight in the Canadiens’ 4-2 loss to their Atlantic Division rivals. “It was just at a key point in the game. Down by three goals, you’re never happy. I think we were just battling. It’s been brewing for two games now. Going back to the game at the Bell Centre last week, we were going at it pretty good as well. It just reached a boiling point. It was a pretty good fight.”
Not only did Gallagher win that tussle by landing a few good punches on Namestnikov before taking him to the ice, but it also appeared to turn things in the Canadiens’ favour from there on out. Just 90 seconds after the fight, Tomas Plekanec got the CH on the board at the 11:10 mark of the second frame, proving to the rest of the bench that Lightning netminder Ben Bishop wasn’t invincible after all. That ultimately led to a Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau marker just 34 seconds into the third period that brought the Canadiens to within a goal down 3-2. While the comeback ultimately fell short, the trademark resiliency Michel Therrien’s troops have showcased all season long was clearly on full display.
“When you’re down 3-0, this team has shown all year that we’re not going to give up, we’re not going to turn over. Sometimes, it’s just a little spark. I thought it was coming, and then it was a point in the game where I felt it was the right thing to do and maybe give us a chance to get back in it,” explained Gallagher, who accounted for three of the Canadiens’ 34 shots on goal on Monday night while logging 17:14 of ice time. “I thought we had some really good chances at the end to tie the game as well.
Unfortunately, he made the saves. But, I thought the team battled hard for 60 minutes. Regardless of the result, I think we can be proud of our effort and understand that little differences make a big difference in a game.”
That’s certainly been the case for the Canadiens against Jon Cooper’s contingent so far this season. The Lightning have won all four meetings with Gallagher & Co. on the year, so coming up short against the likes of Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman is particularly disheartening, especially with valuable points in the standings at stake.
“Even if you get back in the game, you never feel better when you lose,” confided Gallagher, who wasn’t the only player to put his fists to work on Monday night, as Brandon Prust engaged in two scraps of his own. “At the same time, I think you can understand how we’ve had success. It took a while for us to get one on this guy. Once we got one, it felt like we built up a little confidence. We were able to do the same things we’ve always done, throw pucks and just get people to the net. We were close to getting another goal by doing the same thing, so it’s just the way this team has to play to score goals.”
Gallagher knows a thing or two about that. After all, that’s how the former fifth-round selection consistently finds the back of the net himself, grinding it out down low and taking the abuse and punishment that comes with playing in tough territory.
“He plays with tenacity every game. He doesn’t drop the mitts very often, but he plays a gritty game,” praised Carey Price, who made 30 saves in his 57th start of the 2014-15 campaign. “At some point, you hit a boiling point. We saw that with Gally. We love the effort that he brings every night.”
It’s safe to say that feeling is mutual.
“I thought this team did a good job of battling back. Pricey was going to shut the door. You knew they weren’t going to get any more goals. He was going to give us a chance to battle back. I thought we did that,” concluded Gallagher. “We’ve just got to do a little bit more and fight a little harder. It’s good that we’re getting tested like this going into the playoffs. It’s nice for us to get our battle level up, to get our compete level up. It’s only going to be beneficial for us.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com
The Numbers Game: March 16, 2015
Focusing on themselves
Righting the course