EDMONTON – The Canadiens came out with a little added incentive on Thursday night.
One night after dropping a 3-2 decision in Calgary, the Habs came out looking for a bounce-back effort in Edmonton. They roared back in convincing fashion, leaving Rexall Place with a 4-1 win over the Oilers. While the main focus on everyone’s mind was picking up two points in the Albertan capital, a pair of Canadiens sophomores had some additional motivation heading into Thursday’s game.
Playing back in his hometown for the first time as an NHLer, Brendan Gallagher enjoyed an ideal homecoming party, picking up a goal and an assist in his Rexall Place debut.
“It was pretty cool. I was pretty excited to come in here tonight and play in front of a lot of friends and family I grew up with,” shared the 21-year-old winger, who opened the scoring for the Canadiens with his fourth of the campaign in Edmonton. “I saw a lot of games in here as a kid so it was really special walking out of that tunnel tonight.”
Suiting up in front of a fan club that dipped into the double digits, Gallagher put on the kind of performance that saw him finish as a finalist for the Calder Trophy in 2012-13, finishing with his second two-point night of the season in a win against his childhood team. So, was that pretty much the way he drew up the outcome prior to puck drop?
“Not quite,” he admitted with a chuckle. “I didn’t know what to expect coming in tonight. I just wanted to help contribute and contributing on the scoresheet is always fun. “
Spurred by some friendly competition of his own, fellow sophomore Alex Galchenyuk came out on the winning end of his first NHL battle against former Sarnia Sting teammate, Nail Yakupov. Facing each other for the first time since Yakupov and Galchenyuk were drafted first and third overall, respectively, at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Galchenyuk one-upped his longtime friend with a goal, an assist and, more importantly, an extra two points in the standings.
“I was just hoping to win the game because we had a tough one against Calgary last night, but it’s always nice to score in the NHL. The team played extremely well and we’re happy with the win,” mentioned Galchenyuk, whose sixth assist of the year ties him with Henrik Sedin for the league lead. “I wouldn’t say there was extra motivation, but it was a little different feeling.
“You think about it a little more, playing against [Yakupov],” added the 19-year-old forward. “We lived together for two years and we’re great friends. It was a unique experience. I didn’t talk to him at all before, but we saw each other in warmup and we gave each other a little nod. It was fun.”
True to form, after Galchenyuk set the table for his linemate’s goal in the second period, Gallagher made sure to repay the favor when the opportunity presented itself in the third. Streaking down the ice on a two-on-one, Gallagher slid a perfect feed over to Galchenyuk, who made no mistake, firing home the insurance marker midway through the final frame.
“He actually told me before the third period that he was going to find me and I was like, ‘You sure Gally?’ and was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m going to get you’,” described Galchenyuk, who finished with a plus-1 against the Oilers. “Then on the two-on-one I couldn’t believe he actually gave it to me because he was so focused. He made a great play – unbelievable, right on the tape. I give him a lot of credit for that goal.”
“He set me up about two shifts before that, so I told him on the bench that I owed him one,” explained Gallagher with a laugh. “I looked back as soon as I got it and I kind of knew the whole way down that I was going to pass it.”
Whether it was partly-spurred by wanting to win at home or win bragging rights over an old friend, both Gallagher and Galchenyuk were mostly motivated by winning, period.
“We came out with two points, so that’s the main thing,” stressed Galchenyuk, who now leads the team with seven points in four games. “We talked about it in the room before the game that we had to come out strong and sharp. I thought our first period was so-so, but after that we took off and played great. We just had to go out there and battle through adversity a little bit and keep playing a hard-working team game. When we do that, good things happen.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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