We’ve all seen the photos by now. The photos of a bruised, battered, and bloodied Brendan Gallagher that emerged after the Montréal Canadiens’ Game 1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. His forehead gushing blood, Gallagher left for the remainder of the game but dressed again in both Game 2 and Game 3.
The photo of Gallagher is the embodiment of the type of playing style that’s gotten the Habs to the Stanley Cup Final. A physical, in-your-face type of play that has seen them dispatch some of the league’s best.
Gallagher the Grinder
Gallagher has been the same type of player for the Canadiens since he first arrived in Montréal in 2012. A late draft pick in both the Western Hockey League and National Hockey League drafts, the effort he displays day in and day out has transformed him from a relative unknown into Montréal’s favourite son. Former teammate Josh Gorges has said:
“He just works so hard that it drives you crazy. Especially as a defenceman, you stand in front of the net, you try to box him out, you try to push him out of the way and he just doesn’t stop. You give him the hardest [cross-check] and he pops back up with a big smile on his face. You want to believe that you’re getting under his skin and you’re pushing him around, but nothing fazes him.”Josh Gorges on the hard-nosed play of his former teammate Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher is one of those players who gives his all at all times. It doesn’t matter the opponent, the venue, or the Habs’ place in the standings. He’ll be parked in front of the net, getting under the skin of opponents and their best players just the same.
In these 2021 playoffs, Gallagher has been a constant presence. Although not on the scoresheet as much as he’d like, he’s always been in all the scrums and has contributed to some big moments, including assisting the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 6 against the Vegas Golden Knights. His style was best on display in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final after his third-period skirmish with Lightning blueliner Mikhail Sergachev, the interaction from which the photos emerge.
Canadiens Reached the Final by Shutting Down Their Opposition’s Best
The emergence of the Canadiens’ playoff identity traces all the way back to Game 1 of their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Habs came out in Game 1 and established the physical play, throwing 55 hits to the Maple Leafs’ 27. Their defence went to work immediately, completely wiping out the Leafs’ power play. It’s been said a million times, but the Canadiens held Leafs superstars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to nine points and a single goal over seven games. They outhit the Leafs in each game, and it was this combination that allowed them to complete a comeback for the ages.
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They followed up their brilliant performance against the Leafs with another against the Winnipeg Jets. Although not outhitting their opponents this time around, the Habs buckled down and got gritty on the penalty kill. They kept the Jets from scoring a single power play goal across a four-game sweep. The same happened in the Stanley Cup Semifinals versus the Golden Knights. By playing physically and forcing the Knights to grind to win, they successfully compelled them to play a different way than they were used to. The Habs found a way to trudge forward to another series victory in overtime of Game 6, with the checking line scoring in the extra frame. Like their No. 11, the Habs hunkered down, played physical, and got under the skin of their opponents.
Although down 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Final, the Canadiens have shown consistently that their style of play can win them games and series. Their gritty, shutdown method propelled them to a comeback from 3-1 down against the Maple Leafs in Round 1. Who’s to say it can’t help them do the same in the Cup Final and ultimately bring the Cup back to Montréal? As long as they have Brendan Gallagher to lead the way, it’s all possible.
Covering the Montréal Canadiens and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.