The Montreal Canadiens need Brendan Gallagher to find his scoring touch, in a hurry, to have a better chance of getting past the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference First Round.
The Canadiens, the No. 8 seed, trail the No. 1 seed Flyers 2-1 in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff series. Game 4 is at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Tuesday (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, NBCSP).
The forward has no goals and three assists in seven postseason games.
“Frustrated, for sure,” Gallagher said. “No sense in feeling sorry for yourself, got to find a way to battle through that. I’ve always believed you’ve got to try to fight the urge to be frustrated. It’s a waste of emotion. But it is frustrating because the guys work [hard]. You’d like to be able to contribute and help them out.”
The Canadiens are getting contributions from other key players. Forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi leads them with four goals in the postseason, and rookie forward Nick Suzuki has three points (one goal, two assists). Defensemen Shea Weber has a Montreal-high five points (three goals, two assists) averaging 25:18 in ice time per game, and Jeff Petry has two goals averaging 25:02 per game.
Most importantly, goalie Carey Price is enjoying the finest postseason of his NHL career. Through seven games, he has a .953 save percentage and a 1.40 goals-against average, the best of his nine NHL postseasons. He has two shutouts, which ties his high from 2007-08, his rookie season.
They all helped Montreal eliminate Pittsburgh Penguins in four games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. They have also helped Montreal frustrate Philadelphia at times in this series, particularly in Game 2, a 5-0 win Saturday in Toronto, the East hub city.
But the Canadiens were shut out 1-0 in Game 3 on Sunday and need more offense to knock off the Flyers. No one knows this better than Gallagher.
“I’m put in positions to produce; that’s my role in this team,” he said. “If you don’t get results, you’ve just got to find a way to work through it, and that’s where I’m at right now. I’d be lying if [I said] it wasn’t frustrating, but you continue to do the same things you’ve done your whole life and find a way to kind of power through it.”
Gallagher, who averages 17:19 per game, has been getting his chances, playing on the first line with Suzuki and Tomas Tatar. He’s also getting time on the power play.
A fixture near the opposition’s crease, Gallagher has 31 shots on goal this postseason, 14 in three games against the Flyers. He’s had 13 attempts blocked or miss the target.
This dry spell time comes at an inopportune time for the 28-year-old, whose 22 goals this season tied Tatar for the Canadiens lead. He’s at nine games without a goal, including the final two games of the regular season.
This is also Gallagher’s longest goal drought since the 2016-17 season, when he had streaks without a goal of 15, 13 and 10 games. In the 2013-14 playoffs, Gallagher went eight games without a goal.
Kirk Muller, who is coaching the Canadiens while Claude Julien recovers from a heart procedure performed Thursday, is in Gallagher’s corner, saying goals will come if Gallagher continues to do the things that have made him successful.
Gallagher can look to Price, who had his struggles before the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. In the regular season, Price was 27-25-6 with a 2.79 GAA and a .909 save percentage.
“It’s his calmness and consistency as a personality,” Muller said of Price, who turned 33 on Sunday. “If you’re a player, there’s nothing better than walking into a room and your No. 1 goalie is a very calm type of guy, very relaxed. For me, it’s his calmness and confidence that players feed off.”
Muller had a firsthand look at similar qualities while playing for the 1992-93 Canadiens. Goalie Patrick Roy won the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player that postseason after going 16-4 and winning 10 overtime games to finish with a .929 save percentage and 2.13 GAA, anchoring Montreal’s 24th and most recent Stanley Cup championship.
Seven weeks ago, Angela Price saw her husband off from her parents’ home in Kennewick, Washington, when he left for training camp. On Sunday, she joked that she didn’t pack him a birthday gift because she wasn’t certain he’d still be in Toronto on Aug. 16.
Price awoke in his hotel room Sunday to a video his wife had recorded of their two daughters — 4-year-old Liv and 1-year-old Millie — offering musical birthday greetings as they worked on the gift he’ll receive when the family is reunited.
When that takes place may be determined by how long Price can ride his newfound confidence and how quickly Gallagher can find his.