The Rangers probably already have seen enough of Brendan Gallagher and the Canadiens forward’s seemingly permanent grin. Gallagher always seems to be within arm’s reach of Henrik Lundqvist and had a very effective Game 2 on Friday night.
“He looks like he’s enjoying the game. He’s such a competitive little bugger. He stirs things up, he plays extremely hard and he’s got talent to go along with that,” said Canadiens forward Steve Ott, a veteran agitator acquired by Montreal at the trade deadline in March. “After the game, I was talking with my dad on the phone, saying how hard that little guy competes and it’s good to have him on our side.”
The 5-9 (generously listed) Gallagher was only a fifth-round pick in 2010 and didn’t make his NHL debut until the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He finished second to the Panthers’ Jonathan Huberdeau in the Calder Trophy voting that season (Gallagher had 15 goals and 13 assists in 44 games), and the Edmonton native has been a consistent performer for the Canadiens — and a consistently annoying presence for other teams.
The Rangers have been physical the first two games, and Gallagher was asked how many of the 70 or so hits the Rangers recorded were on him. “After the whistle or before?” he said Saturday, flashing that same smile he’s been showing after the numerous post-whistle scrums around Lundqvist’s net. “That’s the fun part of the playoffs. It’s enjoyable, I think. This is what we grew up watching. You see the intensity, and it’s only going to get tougher from here on out.”
Gallagher set up Paul Byron’s goal late in the first period of Game 2 to give the Canadiens a 2-1 lead, with Gallagher shoving the much larger Marc Staal off the puck behind the net to feed Byron. Those two Canadiens forwards, along with veteran center Tomas Plekanec, were among Montreal’s best players throughout Game 2.
“We weren’t great in Game 1, but we were able to sit down and talk about it, and I thought we had a good game last night,” Gallagher said. “We’re going to have to be playing well if we’re going to have success.”
With the Rangers owning the last change for Sunday night’s Game 3 at the Garden, Gallagher surely will see even more of Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh — and McDonagh will get to see Gallagher’s pearly whites up close.
“You’re competitors, you’re having fun and I’m not going to stop having fun out there,” Gallagher said. “It’s definitely been enjoyable, and with that, my character comes out.”
Notes & quotes: Canadiens coach Claude Julien said injured defenseman Alexei Emelin, who hasn’t played yet in the series but has started skating, did not travel with the team to New York. Julien would not commit to making any lineup changes, though his third defense pair of Nikita Nesterov and Nathan Beaulieu struggled early in Game 2.