|11:00 AM PT12:00 PM MT1:00 PM CT2:00 PM ET19:00 GMT3:00 12:00 PM MST2:00 PM EST23:00 UAE14:00 ET17:00 BRT, February 2, 2020
Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec Attendance: 21,302
Gallagher boosts Canadiens ahead of Blue Jackets' visit
Winger Brendan Gallagher is back, and that bodes well for the Montreal Canadiens as they get set to host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.
Gallagher, who returned on Thursday after a six-game injury absence, is on track for his third straight 30-goal season. He has scored in both games since his return, including Saturday's 4-0 win over the visiting Florida Panthers.
But it's not just his goals. Gallagher brings energy and toughness, repeatedly commuting from the boards to the front of the net.
"He just works so hard that it drives you crazy," Josh Gorges, a former teammate who is now retired, told Ryan Dixon of Sportsnet. "You stand in front of the net and try to box him out, but he just doesn't stop. You give him the hardest cross-check, and he just pops up with a big smile. Nothing fazes him."
The Blue Jackets have also been unflappable, going 16-3-5 since Dec. 9 despite missing as many as 10 regulars. That stretch of stellar hockey includes a 2-1 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.
Columbus coach John Tortorella has been praised for keeping his team together despite those injuries, and Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins has been equally brilliant.
Since starter Joonas Korpisalo went down with a knee injury on Dec. 29, Merzlikins has gone 9-2-0.
"I'm happy for him," Tortorella said of Merzlikins, who rested on Saturday and should be ready to go against Montreal on Sunday.
On offense, Columbus is led by winger Pierre-Luc Dubois in points (39) and Oliver Bjorkstrand in goals (17). Dubois and Zach Werenski have 15 goals each.
The Blue Jackets take great pride in their defensemen, especially Werenski (30 points) and Seth Jones (28). Over the past three-plus years, Werenski and Jones have been among the NHL's top-10 defensemen in goals scored.
With Ryan Murray and Dean Kukan -- normally among Columbus' seven defensemen -- both injured, Blue Jackets rookie Vladislav Gavrikov has emerged. The 24-year-old Russian has four goals and seven assists in 51 games after having played previously in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Meanwhile, Montreal is expected to start workhorse goalie Carey Price, who blanked Florida on Saturday and is 22-17-4 this season.
Defenseman Jeff Petry was the big story against the Panthers as he set his career high with four assists -- one for each Canadiens goal.
But it was a total team effort for the Canadiens, who killed off all six Panthers power plays. Price made 25 saves but wasn't tested much beyond a first-period Jonathan Huberdeau breakaway.
Price is 1-1-0 against the Jackets this season, allowing seven goals. Over his career against Columbus, he is 10-5-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average.
Merzlikins, a 25-year-old rookie, has been great at home (5-1-1, 1.38 GAA, .960 save percentage). On the road, he is 4-5-3 with a 2.93 GAA and a .907 save percentage.
He has faced the Canadiens just once, losing 3-2 in a shootout on Nov. 12 in Montreal. Merzlikins had been working on a shutout until Gallagher beat him in the third period.
In the shootout, Price stopped all three shots he faced. Merzlikins stopped two shots, and that was enough for the Montreal victory.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 1, 2020