Canada

Canadiens looking to make the unpredictable happen against Leafs

“Unpredictable to who?" Brendan Gallagher says about Habs being big underdogs against Toronto in first round playoff series.

Canadiens goalie Jake Allen tracks the puck as it's chased by Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander during a game this season at the Bell Centre.

The Toronto Maple Leafs (35-14-7) finished in first place in the all-Canadian North Division, 18 points ahead of the fourth-place Canadiens (24-21-11).

The Canadiens had a 3-6-1 record in their 10 games against the Leafs. The Leafs had a plus-39 goal differential for the season, while the Canadiens were minus-9.

So Brendan Gallagher was asked after practice Saturday in Brossard how the Canadiens can make the unpredictable happen when they face the Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs with Game 1 slated for next Thursday in Toronto

“Unpredictable to who?” Gallagher said. “I’ve told you guys this a lot … the one thing about our group is we’ve never lacked belief. We know what we have. We know what we are. We know what we’re capable of. Unpredictable to some, maybe? To us, not.

“We know we have a job to do,” Gallagher added. “Go out there and execute and do it. It’s all about controlling your emotions, understanding what we’re going through. You know things might not go your way right away, but stick with it and just find a way. Each series takes on a new mentality and there’s going to be different heroes every night stepping up. This is the funnest time of year to be playing hockey and you just want it to last and hopefully we can enjoy the ride as long as possible.”

If the Canadiens are going to beat the Maple Leafs they’ll need to find a way to shut down their two biggest stars, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Matthews posted 41-25-66 totals this season, ranking first in the NHL in goals and fifth in scoring. Marner ranks fourth in scoring with 20-47-67 totals. Matthews had 7-7-14 totals in 10 games against the Canadiens, while Marner had 4-7-11 totals.

Gallagher’s line, with Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar, will likely be matched up against the Leafs’ dynamic duo.

“It’s going to be an important part of the series,” Gallagher said. “We’re going to have to do a job on those guys. Obviously, if they’re comfortable and they’re effective and hurting us every single night our chances of winning this thing go down drastically. So we’re going to have to do a job. I think there’s going to be a lot of other guys involved in that as well. But when you’re on the ice against them we’re prepared to compete and just make it as difficult as possible. We know how dangerous they are, those two together especially. It’s a big focal point for the series, obviously, and we’re going to try and do a job on them.”

Gallagher said the Canadiens are “excited and energized” to finally have a healthy lineup. Gallagher has recovered from a fractured right thumb that forced him to miss the last 21 games of the regular season. Goalie Carey Price (concussion), Danault (concussion) and captain Shea Weber (upper body) are all expected to be in the lineup for Game 1.

“We have experience, we have youth that we rely on,” Gallagher said. “We have the best goaltender in the world and we have a lot of guys that will compete. When you bring that into a series we’re confident. I think we have depth in every area where we’re going to compete and compete for those opportunities to be the guys. And you have a lot of guys that want to step up and take on that opportunity and when you talk about playoff hockey it’s got to be a different hero every single night. You can’t rely on the same single guy to step up and be that guy.

“I have a lot of confidence in the character that we have in this locker room,” Gallagher added. “This team was tested a lot this year. Even near the end when I was watching games it seemed like every win we had was a come-from-behind win. It would have been easy — guys were pretty tired mentally, physically — it would have been pretty easy to just pack it in and hope for the next one. But no matter what we went through this year the team responded the right way and that speaks to the character that we have in this locker room and going forward that’s something that we’re going to have to rely on.”

What we won’t have for this playoff series in fans in the arenas in Montreal and Toronto for the first playoff series between these two teams since 1979, when the Canadiens swept the Leafs in the quarter-finals en route to their fourth straight Stanley Cup.

“You’re really sad that the fans can’t be in the building for this,” Gallagher said. “The first time since the late ’70s that these two historic franchises have played. I’ve been a part of this rivalry for nine years now and it never gets old. The fans are so passionate, they’re so excited. It’s going to be awesome for us as players to be a part of. We know we’re going to feel the fans’ emotion. But it’s very unfortunate that they can’t be in the building because this is going to be special. It’s going to be really emotional, it’s going to be intense, competitive. It’s going to be fun to watch, for sure. But to have fans in the building and create that little bit of atmosphere would make it that much better.”

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

  1. Canadiens' Brendan Gallagher during NHL action against the Ottawa Senators in Montreal on, March 2, 2021. He will be ready to play when the Canadiens open their first-round playoff series Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.

    Stu Cowan: Canadiens get their heartbeat back with Brendan Gallagher

  2. Cole Caufield was on the fifth line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Michael Frolik when the Canadiens practised Saturday morning in Brossard.

    Canadiens Notebook: Habs hit the ice for practice to prepare for Maple Leafs

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