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For the Montreal Canadiens, Brendan Gallagher is rounding into form at just the right time

Brendan Gallagher of the Montreal Canadiens skates after the puck against Nick Holden #22 of the New York Rangers in Game One of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell Centre on April 12, 2017 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

There is no official NHL statistic for getting your bucket knocked off after the whistle, but if there was the runaway league leader would be a certain Brendan Gallagher, late of Montreal, Quebec.

Hockey has its share of pests and rodents, but the dimunitive Montreal Canadiens winger inspires a special kind of animus. Probably because he is unusually relentless, even by NHL standards, and is permanently flashing what teammate Carey Price has called "that stupid grin."

It's probably safe to say the New York Rangers have had just about enough of young Mr. Gallagher.

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"He does that all year to all the teams, that's nothing new," chuckled Habs defenceman Shea Weber.

True, except the Eastern Conference quarterfinal is only seven periods old.

There he was in the first period of game two, getting his lid punched off his head by Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh.

A little later, after an off-side play where he continued trucking into the heart of the New York defence, he did a little juggle with the puck prompting McDonagh to swat it away and take a chop at his ankles for good measure.

His reaction: a smile.

In the second there Gallagher was again, getting picked up like he was a sack of pig feed by Brady Skjei (a penalty ensued) and in the third having his helmet wrestled off by McDonagh as he stood petulantly in goalie Henrik Lundqvist's blue paint.

"He drives everybody mental," said linemate Paul Byron, "that's his game, he's really good at it."

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Well, it helps that he can also play a little.

Indeed, a strong argument can be made that Gallagher was the Habs' best forward in the 4-3 overtime win that tied the series up at 1-1, before the teams head to Madison Square Garden for Sunday's game three.

Early in the game he made a sweet little touch pass to spring Byron on a breakaway (Lundqvist ultimately made the stop).

Shortly after, his net drive resulted in Lundqvist breaking his stick; within 30 seconds the Habs were up 1-0 as Jeff Petry fired a puck past the stick-less goalie.

Then he carried the puck into the New York end, wrong-footing defenceman Marc Staal with a little shimmy before chipping the puck behind the net for himself.

There, he held the much larger Staal off – Gallagher is generously listed at five-foot-nine, 180 pounds – and feathered a perfect pass to Byron for a goal.

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It was the kind of performance the Habs have come to expect from Gallagher, who couldn't find his game with a GPS and an orienteering course for much of the season.

Some of that is down to his increasingly mangled left hand, which has been broken in successive seasons by slap-shots, most recently Weber's.

It has affected his grip and his shot, but after a middling season statistically in which he still generated more scoring chances than almost anyone on the team, Gallagher has rounded into form over the past month and benefited from better luck around the net.

His reemergence as an offensive factor is a crucial development for the Habs; a productive Gallagher shifts the offensive balance. He is a player who must be defended and that in turn provides more favourable match-ups for other lines.

Gallagher's secret sauce is his powerful lower body and his sharp edgework, which allows him to pivot quickly and squirt through openings along the boards against bigger players.

Byron said it's to the point where he often thinks he shouldn't bother going in to support Gallagher on board battles where he is outnumbered – such is his knack for emerging with the puck.

"He's a weapon for our team," he said, later adding "and he's back to his old self. It's good to see."

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More

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