In the dying minutes of Montreal’s 5-3 win in Wednesday’s Game 5, one that cut their series deficit to 3-2, Brendan Gallagher received a crosscheck from Matt Niskanen that left the Canadiens forward bleeding from the mouth, with at least one tooth knocked out and, subject to further testing, a possible fracture of his jaw.
Gallagher will reportedly have a CT scan later on Thursday in order to evaluate the damage, but no medical evaluation will be necessary to assess what it would mean to the Canadiens’ hopes if he’s unavailable to play in Friday’s Game 6.
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“He’s been a heart and soul guy for this team for a long time,” said Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot Thursday morning. “He leads the way with his work ethic and how determined he is and that definitely sets the tone for our team. If a guy like that is going to be going that hard, everyone else better match that intensity.”
Should Gallagher have to leave the NHL’s bubble for further tests, he’d be subject to a mandatory quarantine upon his return. The length of it would depend on how long he’s gone for and what his level of exposure to COVID-19 is but, according to protocols, it would likely mean having to test negative for the virus on four consecutive days before being allowed to rejoin his teammates.
What a blow that would be to Montreal’s chances in this series. Gallagher played a pivotal role in Wednesday’s win with a tone-setting first shift, his first goal of the playoffs and an overall all-out performance.
As for what it would mean for the Flyers should Niskanen be suspending following a hearing with the NHL’s department of player safety, Philadelphia coach Alain Vigneault appeared hopeful on Thursday that he won’t have to consider that.
He also felt the hit was “a hockey play.”
“Let’s see what happens with this afternoon,” Vigneault said regarding Niskanen’s hearing. “In my estimation, Gallagher got up and seemed fine. He was talking to the referees, and the whole time that he was on the bench he was talking to our players for the rest of the game. Gallagher’s a very competitive player, but I don’t think it’s Nisky’s fault that he might not be as tall as some of the other guys but he competes as big, if not bigger, than anybody else. It just seemed like a hockey play that unfortunately cut him a little bit.”
The Canadiens didn’t see it that way.
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) August 20, 2020
Interim head coach Kirk Muller said they sent a video to the league that should clearly reveal that it was a predatory hit, and Chiarot, who plays on the edge and has been known to wield his stick in a similar manner, said he knows what he saw from Niskanen on the play.
“It looks like a crosscheck right to the face, pretty much, is how I saw it,” Chiarot said. “An unsuspecting guy; Gally’s in the corner battling for the puck, turns around and gets a mouthful of Niskanen’s stick. That’s how I saw it.”
It was one of several nasty plays in Game 5, one that came roughly 35 minutes after Canadiens forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi was assessed a major penalty and ejected for a high hit on Flyers defenceman Travis Sanheim.
Sources confirmed to Sportsnet that Kotkaniemi won’t face further discipline.
Neither will Flyers forward Sean Couturier for this hit on Artturi Lehkonen:
“There’s no doubt that there’s no love between both teams,” said Vigneault. “Both teams want to win, very competitive. The hit on Travis… it was a blow upwards towards the head that cut him. The hit [from Couturier on Lehkonen] at the end of the game—sometimes boys will be boys. But Nisky’s hit… his angle doesn’t change, it’s just a hockey play.”
It’s a play that could leave the Canadiens without one of their most important players, though Vigneault said he expects to see Gallagher in action in Game 6.
Should the 28-year-old not be eligible to participate, their next best option at right wing would be Joel Armia, who scored two goals in Game 5 and made a considerable impact on the outcome.
“Joel is a guy that’s so good with the puck,” said Canadiens forward Charles Hudon, who made his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut on Wednesday. “On his second goal, he came into the zone with someone draped on his shoulders. It’s very hard to take him off the puck, even in practice. So he brings a lot of offence, and he’s no liability in the defensive zone either. He’s a good player for our team and he shows good things every game.”
Muller said the Canadiens would wait for more medical feedback on Gallagher’s status before considering necessary adjustments in his absence.
“I would never count him out,” he added. “We saw how he had probably the most impact in that game last night the way he came out in the first shift, the character of that guy and how hard he played. He’s the heartbeat of our team, so I don’t think you could ever question whether he’d be in the lineup depending on his situation medically. You never count him out, because of the character he has.”