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Gallagher's return sparks Canadiens' victory

by Arpon Basu

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Brendan Gallagher effect was real Friday at the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

The Montreal Canadiens can only hope it lasts.

Gallagher returned to the lineup after missing 17 games with two fractured fingers on his left hand and made an instant impact up and down the lineup, sparking his team to a 5-1 win against the Boston Bruins.

"I think I only wanted to come back if I could help the team win and be a contributor. I think everyone did that," said Gallagher, who had a goal and an assist. "Nobody tried to do too much. Nobody did anything they're not normally asked to do. But shift after shift we went out and we got the job done."

Gallagher's influence on the Canadiens doing that, playing effectively shift after shift, cannot be overstated.

Before Gallagher was injured blocking a shot by New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk on Nov. 22, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien had been able to go through the first quarter of the season leaving his forward lines essentially intact.

Without Gallagher, finding forward combinations that worked became much more difficult, forcing Therrien to juggle his forward lines on nearly a nightly basis.

Therrien went back to those old combinations on Friday, and they worked to perfection.

Gallagher played with Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty; they combined for two goals and four assists. That allowed Therrien to put David Desharnais back on a third line with Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise, and Desharnais scored his first goal since Nov. 22, the night Gallagher was injured. The fourth line of Paul Byron, Brian Flynn and Torrey Mitchell had a big contribution, with Byron scoring two goals.

It was the type of balanced performance the Canadiens had regularly in the first quarter of the season and almost never while going 3-11-0 in December.

Gallagher was the catalyst.

"One thing that we know with the lines we put together at training camp and when we started the year; we [had] that chemistry as a team," Therrien said. "And we were pretty successful, so the fact that we get [Gallagher] back, we're able to get that chemistry with even, not only the Plekanec line but with David Desharnais' line and [Alex Galchenyuk], they're doing some good things, too.

"The fourth line, they did a great job tonight, Mitchell and Byron and [Flynn]. So I like the combination with our lines, the way we were able to set it up. It was tougher lately. But the fact that [Gallagher] is back certainly is going to help."

The Canadiens players were not shy to say Thursday that Gallagher's return was the spark they would need to start 2016 on the right note and forget their misery in December. It seemed like a lot to ask of a player who hadn't played a game in five weeks and was coming back in a very high-pressure situation on the biggest regular season stage in the NHL.

But they turned out to be right: Gallagher was exactly what the Canadiens needed.

"Brendan's return did everybody some good," Desharnais said. "We got goals from practically every line tonight. That's how it was at the start of the year and that's how it has to stay if we want to win games."

It became clear very early in the game that Gallagher wasn't going to stray away from the style of play that's made him so successful. In the first period he was fishing for a rebound around Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask and had defenseman Zdeno Chara grab his head from behind and throw him to the ice.

It was vintage Gallagher, and it was something the Canadiens desperately needed.

"I had total confidence going into the game that he was going to play his best because he's a big stage player," Pacioretty said. "I don't miss trying to pull Chara off of him. But I definitely miss him getting to the paint and smiling with his bloody gums."

The Canadiens don't need to miss it anymore. Their catalyst is back, and they are hoping the success that came with it will be back as well.

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