Stu Cowan: Canadiens get their heartbeat back with Brendan Gallagher


“From Day 1 when I was drafted by this team it was made really clear to me the history and the tradition of being a Montreal Canadien.”

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There is no doubt Brendan Gallagher is the heart-and-soul of the Canadiens.

Gallagher missed the last 21 regular-season games with a fractured thumb and the Canadiens went 7-12-2 in those games while scoring two goals or less in 14 of them. Gallagher’s heart pumps bleu-blanc-rouge and he also bleeds it — a lot with the gritty style of game he plays.

Gallagher’s 14 goals this season were the fourth-most on the Canadiens despite all the time he missed. The only Canadiens with more goals were Tyler Toffoli (28), Josh Anderson (17) and Nick Suzuki (15). Gallagher was on pace to score 22 goals if he had played all 56 games this season and was on pace for 33 goals if it had been a regular 82-game season, which would have matched his career high from two seasons ago.

What Gallagher brings on the ice is obvious to anyone who watches him play. But what he brings off the ice is just as important to the Canadiens.

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“Off the ice, he’s just himself,” head coach Dominique Ducharme said after the Canadiens practised Saturday morning in Brossard. “He’s not a kind of guy that needs to talk a lot to lead. He leads by example, the way he plays, his commitment to the game, his engagement, the way he competes. Obviously, he’s a guy that everyone loves (to be) around, but his impact in the locker room is just that the guys know … they know that they can count on him in any situation. That he’s going to be one of the first guys in front to get into the battle.”

Gallagher took part in Saturday’s practice, back on his regular line with Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar, and he will be ready to play when the Canadiens open their first-round playoff series next Thursday in Toronto against the Maple Leafs (7:30 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

We don’t get to see or hear how Gallagher might inspire his teammates in the locker room — especially this season with no media members allowed in because of COVID-19 — but we still get to hear him in Zoom interviews. Being a spokesperson for the team is something Gallagher takes very seriously.

During the 2017-18 season, at a time when the Canadiens were really struggling en route to finishing 28th in the overall NHL standings, I thanked Gallagher for always making himself available to the media.

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“Our message to the fans is through you guys (the media) — and that’s really our outlet,” he said. “So the message that we want to get across comes from us. You see Patch (Max Pacioretty) in here every day, anytime you want to talk to Pleky (Tomas Plekanec) he’ll talk to you — he’ll only give you a few words, but he’ll talk to you. That’s just part of the process of getting messages across through the media. For fans, this is their outlet to us and they’re going to feel the emotions that we’re feeling as players and we know how frustrating that can be at times. They want to hear that we’re working as hard as we can to get out of it, and if we want them to continue to support us, I think it’s important that they know that.”

Gallagher answered questions for more than 20 minutes after Saturday’s practice and one of them was about the Canadiens playing their first game in franchise history recently without a single Quebec-born francophone player on the roster after Danault was sidelined with a concussion and Jonathan Drouin had left the team for personal reasons. The Canadiens took a lot of heat in the French media and from Quebec Premier François Legault and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.

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“First off, I’ll defend the organization all day on that one,” Gallagher said. “From Day 1 when I was drafted by this team it was made really clear to me the history and the tradition of being a Montreal Canadien and what it is and what it’s all about. And I understand that maybe there’s a viewpoint that French-Canadian players care and understand more about what it means to be a Montreal Canadien, but that simply isn’t true.

“I can tell you for a fact when we put on that sweater every single guy in that locker room wants to represent the Habs and wants to represent the tradition,” added Gallagher, who was born in Edmonton with his family moving to Tsawwassen, B.C., when he was 12. “And when you put it on it’s special to us, it means a lot to us. You don’t have to be from here to understand that. We know what it’s all about. I’m a Western Canadian, but I certainly understand the tradition of it and every single guy in that locker room is the same way. The organization definitely makes it very clear to us how important it is to be a Montreal Canadien and what it means and the history of it all and the players that came before us that made it so special. This organization is what it is for a reason.”

The Canadiens have their heartbeat back just in time for the playoffs.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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