When it all comes down to it, the Winter Classic is pretty much like any other regular-season game. This time, though, it was a lot different, especially for the Montreal Canadiens, who were welcoming back forward Brendan Gallagher.
Brendan Gallagher Returns
Gallagher, who had been out since November 22 with two broken fingers, made an almost-immediate impact on the game, eventually getting two points, including the 3-0 goal that essentially put the game out of reach for the Boston Bruins in the second period.
He also was instrumental in restoring the three-goal lead, feeding Max Pacioretty for the 4-1 goal on a two-on-one break, after Matt Beleskey had gotten the Bruins on the board
It would have probably been fitting for him to end up getting the game-winner, but the Canadiens allowing the Bruins to get on the board a second time would have almost spelled disaster, considering how the last meeting between these two teams went down.
With the Canadiens leading 1-0 in the third period on December 9 in Montreal, the Bruins struck for two quick ones in 42 seconds to take the lead, ultimately netting a third and winning 3-1. Of course, as evidenced by the 5-1 win Friday, this isn’t the same team that coughed up the third-period lead then. They’re a team that didn’t sit on one this time around.
More importantly, they’re a team that doesn’t have to.
When It All Went Wrong
The Bruins loss wasn’t necessarily the point at which the Canadiens’ season took a turn for a worse. The wheels really started to come off a week and a half before, when they lost 3-2 to the New Jersey Devils, despite leading 2-0, again in the third period. That loss began a stretch during which the Canadiens went 3-11-1.
Technically speaking, the team’s misfortunes can trace back to a few games earlier, ironically in a 5-1 win over the New York Rangers, which served as a statement game for the Canadiens. However, that was Montreal’s first complete game without Gallagher and the game in which they lost Carey Price… a game in which, in retrospect, they were lucky to run into the up-to-then regression-defying Rangers.
No one probably could have predicted just how hard the two injuries would have hit the Canadiens, especially after such a decisive win. However, they became a different team, incapable of building up big leads without their offensive sparkplug in Gallagher and then holding onto the ones they could earn with a tandem of Mike Condon and Dustin Tokarski (now Condon and Ben Scrivens) backstopping them.
Atlantic Division Leaders Again
Well, now they’re a different team again… maybe not as good as the one that won their first nine games of the season with a completely healthy lineup, including a potentially injured Dale Weise. However, it’s probably no coincidence Friday’s 5-1 victory was the first time the Habs so much as scored four goals since that victory over the Rangers, getting only to three goals twice in those 16 games.
Perhaps, as NBC’s analysts pointed out—in between the insufferable, near-endless string of football references Friday with the game being played in Gillette Stadium—this is a victory off of which the Canadiens can build, after regaining the lead in the Atlantic Division, albeit a precarious single-point one over the Florida Panthers who also have three games in hand.
Even if Condon still didn’t look like his early-season self, in spite of his spot-on Price impression on Ryan Spooner in the second period, merely average goaltending is good enough, as long as you have the offense to back it up. Finally, the Canadiens seem to have their mojo back. His name is Brendan Gallagher.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.