At the final horn of the Montreal Canadiens’ first win of the season, defenceman Josh Gorges flipped the game puck into goalie Carey Price’s glove.
A nice gesture, given the tall goalie’s commanding 27-save performance in a 4-1 victory.
But regular-season wins aren’t usually commemorated by mementoes, so Price gave the puck to his coach, Michel Therrien, who had just won his first NHL game since February of 2009, and his first in Montreal since January of 2003.
Therrien already has 'first-win' pucks from his previous coaching stints, so it seemed a little odd to keep the one from his second stretch in Montreal.
Solution? He gave it to general-manager Marc Bergevin on the occasion of the team’s first triumph in his tenure as front-office boss.
The well-travelled hunk of rubber was one of two souvenirs to issue forth from Tuesday’s game.
The other was undoubtedly more significant; it was heralded, appropriately enough, by an ovation that can best be described as playoff loud.
And why not, the Bell Centre crowd has been waiting for this.
When 18-year-old Montreal Canadiens rookie Alex Galchenyuk parked his ample frame in front of Florida Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen, linemate Brandon Prust didn’t need a gilded invitation to let fly with a shot.
As the puck arrived, the third overall pick in last year’s NHL draft made a deft flick with the blade of his stick, sending it between his legs and up over Clemmensen, where it kissed softly off the crossbar and into the net.
Cue the mayhem, and a sprint to the far side-boards where teenager met glass to celebrate.
“I was definitely excited, I was just skating around, pumped, and I saw all the fans going nuts so I thought I might as well jump into the glass,” he said.
The puck was duly fished out of the net and given to the training staff - Galchenyuk was able to show it to his dad, a former pro hockey player, his mother and sister, who were in the stands to see him score.
When the game was over, Galchenyuk took a further bow - and earned another massive ovation - as the game’s first star.
It doesn’t appear to have gone to his head.
“To throw the pucks to the fans and say things to them is awesome, but Marky [defenceman Andrei Markov] got two goals so he deserved that too, and Carey [Price] played unbelievable,” he said. “But I’m a young guy getting his first goal so they gave it to me.”
Ah yes, the young guys.
Much ink has been spilled about the remarkable start this season by veterans on the wrong side of 40.
Before long, everyone will be talking about the kids.
From St. Louis forward Vladimir Tarasenko to Minnesota’s Mikael Granlund to Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau, the next generation is asserting itself forcefully.
It won’t escape the notice of Habs fans that Galchenyuk’s first NHL goal also produced the first NHL assist for linemate - and training camp roommate - Brendan Gallagher, a 20-year-old fifth-rounder from 2010.
Where Galchenyuk was playing in his second career game, Gallagher was in his first.
“It was pretty cool (to get the first point), especially on Alex’s goal, we’ve spent all of training camp together so it was nice to get that out of the way,” he said.
And how did the din sound to young ears?
“I kind of looked over at [Galchenyuk] on the bench, we were thinking this is pretty crazy . . . it was unbelievable, I thought they were going to get the ‘Gally’ chant going for him, I was going to feel like it was for me,” Gallagher added.
The crowd is one thing. So is finding oneself on the ice with players he grew up idolizing.
For Huberdeau, who played on the same Team Canada world junior squad as Gallagher in 2011, that’s literally the case.
The 19-year-old has started his career playing on the same forward line as Alex Kovalev, who he watched growing up - the silky-handed Russian is more than twice his age.
“I’ve got his skills DVD, I used to watch him in Montreal, he was one of my idols and now we’re playing on the same line,” Huberdeau said.
The St. Jerome, Que., native grew up as a Habs fan - although he only made it to the Bell Centre “two or three times - it’s expensive."
Yet there he was at centre ice for the opening faceoff.
“Of course you’re nervous when you come on for that first shift, but it was fun. It would have been more fun to win, but from the standpoint of playing in Montreal it was good,” he said. “I knew it was loud, I was expecting it, it was fun even when you’re on the visiting team.”
Like Galchenyuk, Huberdeau was the third pick overall (in 2011); his first goal came on his second shift in the big league.
Having a bunch of super-talented, highly-touted draft picks play in the NHL isn’t a new phenomenon, but there seems to be a qualitative difference this year: these prospects are contributing immediately (Tarasenko has arguably been the Blues’ best player in the early going).
Huberdeau is playing top-six minutes, and while Galchenyuk and Gallagher played Tuesday’s game on the third line, they took a regular shift and even saw time on the power play.
The three players even briefly found themselves on the ice together in the first period - and each did what they will soon become famous for.
Huberdeau narrowly missed scoring when he tipped a Kovalev shot on Price (he would have three or four great chances on the night, but Price was in grand form).
Then the puck went back up the ice through Galchenyuk’s slick stickhandling, the play ultimately stopped with the diminutive, but rambunctious Gallagher barreling into the crease to get in Clemmensen’s face.
The kid line, it has to be said, benefited from facing a Florida squad that was playing its third game in four nights.
But coach Michel Therrien had benched 23-year-old centre Lars Eller after Saturday’s listless loss to Toronto to move Galchenyuk to centre and make room for Gallagher.
It was, he said, a move designed to bring more intensity and speed to the lineup for a game that had a must-win feel to it - it’s instructive that he picked two rookies and the rough-hewn Prust for the job. And it worked.
Montreal opened the scoring with just over three minutes gone when Tomas Plekanec benefited from the space created by linemate Rene Bourque’s charge to the net to snap a Brian Gionta feed past Clemmensen.
Defenceman Andrei Markov doubled the Montreal lead on a five-on-three power play 10 minutes later, ripping a slap-shot into the roof of the net.
It was the injury-wracked defenceman’s first goal since Nov. 9, 2010. Florida replied through Tomas Kopecky on the power-play.
Markov added his second of the night on a second-period power play; Galchenyuk’s big moment followed a few minutes later.
And while he earned a lusty ovation on both occasions, the crowd saved its loudest cheers for the 18-year-old forward, not the 34-year-old defenceman.Report Typo/Error