What a wacky weekend!
Your Montreal Canadiens began the most difficult stretch of their season with back-to-back games against a pair of Eastern Conference powerhouses, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins.
In taking three of a possible four points, the Canadiens lifted themselves back into first place in the conference and, more importantly, served notice that they are no longer the female dogs of the brutes in black and gold.
The Canadiens will visit the TD Garden again on March 27.
Nine days later, Boston will be at the Bell Centre to complete the teams’ regular-season slate of four games.
So far, it’s one win each and a cumulative score of 5-5.
After a couple of years during which the Bruins had their way, the rivalry has resumed.
And it’s freakin’ intense.
In his postgame remarks, Michel Therrien singled out Brandon Prust for his great leadership.
“It takes courage,” the coach said, “to do what he did.”
What Prust did, 15 minutes into the second period with the Bruins up 3-2 and cruising, was fight Milan Lucic.
He didn’t win. Guys who give away 35 pounds and a few inches only win movie fights.
But Prust is not Mike Komisarek. He hung there against one of the toughest fighters in the league and landed a couple on Lucic.
A half-minute later, Zdeno Chara tried to play Milan Lucic to Alexei Emelin’s Komisarek. The hulking Boston defenceman was penalized as the instigator and took a 10-minute misconduct. Chara was still cooling his heels in the third period when Max Pacioretty tied the game and David Desharnais scored the winner.
The stat sheet shows the Canadiens being outhit 30-24. They went 0-2 in the fights.
But I think they made an important statement: We are not Mike Komisarek’s Montreal Canadiens.
They don’t have a player on the roster – or in the system – who is going to strike fear in the hearts of a Lucic or Chara. But there’s some hoary sports wisdom that seems relevant to this year’s edition of the team:
It’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog.
Brendan Gallagher didn’t fight Lucic or Chara. That would be suicidal for the 5’8″, 175-lb rookie. But his diminutive stature doesn’t prevent Gallagher from steaming into the dirty areas where many players larger than he fear to tread.
En route to night of two assists and plus-3, Gallagher got in the faces of all the Boston defencemen – yes, including Chara – and crashed Tuukka Rask’s crease at every opportunity. With the departure of Erik Cole, Gallagher is solidifying his spot on right wing with Desharnais and Pacioretty.
For now, they’re the Canadiens’ number-one line. And that could last a while.
With the Canadiens on the road this week, perhaps Gallagher can light a hotel fire under his roommate.
Alex Galchenyuk is struggling. The Canadiens’ lottery draft pick, third overall last June, played 11:15 against Pittsburgh and 9:40 in Boston. He bounced around from line to line and did not register a shot on goal in either game.
The NHL may be too fast for the kid. Bear in mind knee surgery restricted Galchenyuk to eight games in Sarnia last season. And because the Canadiens are winning, there’s isn’t a ton of pressure on the kid.
And Galchenyuk is not the only Canadien who had a tough weekend:
• Michael Ryder was invisible in both games. He had two shots on goal against the Penguins, one in Boston against his former teammates. The addition of Ryder has not rejuvenated the power play.
• Travis Moen, elevated to supply some muscle on Tomas Plekanec’s line against the Bruins, had a grand total of 0 hits in Boston. Pleks, who endured a revolving door of lousy linemates last season, needs Rene Bourque back.
• Josh Gorges was minus-3 against Pittsburgh, minus-1 against the Bruins. But no Canadiens defenceman distinguished himself on the weekend – except for Tomas Kaberle (plus-3 against Pittsburgh, even in Boston), and who would have predicted that?
But hey, it was a bad weekend for bold prognostications.
Who foresaw Peter Budaj making 31 saves against Boston – including a game-saver off Tyler Seguin in the dying seconds? In his last three starts, Carey Price’s understudy has a 1.33 GAA and a save percentage of .949.
No way. But Therrien gambled and won on Budaj in Boston, and now it’s up to Price to get his poop in a group on the rest of the road trip, starting Tuesday night on the Island.
• On March 4, 2012, the Canadiens were 25-31-10 and in last place, 10 points out of a playoff spot. They had finished February with a five-game losing streak and had a goal differential of minus-14.
Your new, improved Brandon & Brendan/Teammates Defendin’/Goalies Tormentin’ Canadiens are 14-4-4. They are 10 points clear of the ninth-place Rangers and have scored 15 more goals than they’ve allowed.