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Gallagher's impact on Canadiens far exceeds his size

by Arpon Basu

BROSSARD, Quebec -- Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien was looking for a way to get David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty going offensively.

It was mid-November and the Canadiens forwards were having difficult starts to the 2013-14 season. Desharnais had one assist in his first 19 games, and Therrien made him a healthy scratch on Nov. 5 and Nov. 12. Pacioretty had two goals and two assists in 12 games, well below his normal standards.

Their struggles were mitigated by the strong play of the line of Lars Eller between two second-year players, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. In their first 21 games together, they combined to score 19 goals with 22 assists.

But Therrien knew the Canadiens needed to get Pacioretty and Desharnais going or the season likely would be going nowhere. So the coach made the difficult decision to remove Gallagher from the Eller line and placed him with Desharnais and Pacioretty.

In their first game together, Nov. 19 against the Minnesota Wild, Pacioretty got a hat trick and Desharnais and Gallagher each had two assists in a 6-2 Canadiens victory.

A new top line was born.

Pacioretty scored 28 goals in 46 games and Desharnais had 37 points in 45 games playing with Gallagher. Eller, after starting the season with 13 points in 21 games, produced 13 points in his next 56 games. Galchenyuk's pace also slowed from 15 points in 21 games to 16 points in 44 games.

It wasn't difficult to see what the common element in all of that was.

"I don't see it as he's there to fix problems," Therrien said after practice Wednesday. "We like the way he competes, we like the way he plays and he brings energy to any line we put him on."

Therrien is hoping to reproduce some of the magic he found in November in Montreal's Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Boston Bruins. The Canadiens lead the best-of-7 series 2-1, and Therrien put Gallagher back on a line with Desharnais and Pacioretty in Game 3 in an effort to spark their production again.

Game 4 is Thursday at Bell Centre (7:30 p.m.; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

Pacioretty and Desharnais each have one goal and two assists in seven games in these Stanley Cup Playoffs. Gallagher said he feels his line hasn't played badly; however, as Therrien pointed out, with Thomas Vanek on right wing, it was not producing enough at even strength.

Enter the catalyst, Gallagher, who said bouncing from line to line doesn't require much of an adjustment for him.

"It's pretty easy for me because my game, regardless of the situation I'm in, stays the same," Gallagher said. "I can do the same things, I don't really need to think too much, I can just go out there and play and try and help out the two guys I'm playing with as much as I can."

Gallagher's game is not complicated. He might be 5-foot-9, but he plays a big man's game.

"You know what you're going to get from him," center Daniel Briere said. "I think it's a very simple game, but a tough one to play. It demands a lot physically."

There are few players in the NHL who go to the net as hard as Gallagher does. Once he's there he's not easy to move, driving defensemen and goaltenders around the League to fits of rage after the whistle.

Usually, Gallagher's response is not verbal.

"I don't chirp," he said in Boston last week, "I just smile."

That smile often causes players to become even angrier.

"He keeps the same game, every game," Canadiens forward Dale Weise said. "He's north-south, he takes pucks to the net, he's hard to play against, he's got that big smile that gets under guys skin and just bothers guys.

"He's got some big-time skill and he can skate, so he's got so many attributes to help any line."

Those attributes are being called upon again to help two of Montreal's most important offensive players. The Canadiens have won six out of seven playoff games with Pacioretty and Desharnais producing six points between them.

One reason is the resurgence of Eller, Montreal's top-scoring playoff forward with eight points; another is the unexpected production of four goals from Rene Bourque, and the biggest is the dominant play of defenseman P.K. Subban and goaltender Carey Price. But if Gallagher can work his magic with Desharnais and Pacioretty one more time, it could change the complexion of this series.

"It feels good when you have that coach's trust, but it's a little bit of responsibility too," Gallagher said. "You don't want to let him down and you want to make him feel like he's making the right decisions.

"It's easy if you show up every night and work hard and bring energy. That's something I have to do to be successful."

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