Alex Galchenyuk may be indebted to his linemate Max Pacioretty for the next little while.
Galchenyuk recorded his first-career hat trick to lead the Canadiens to a 4-1 victory over the visiting Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday, extending Montreal's winning streak to three games. Pacioretty got the primary assist on all three of Galchenyuk's goals.
"I think he owes me dinner," said Pacioretty, who recently inherited two new linemates in Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. "It's fun playing with those two. I'm not old by any means, but they bring my age down a little bit. I feel like I have a lot more energy playing with those guys at times.
"They're always going, always buzzing. They're two guys who are easy to play with."
Pacioretty used to play on the first line with David Desharnais and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, while Galchenyuk and Gallagher played on the second with Tomas Plekanec. The recent line shuffle by putting Galchenyuk at centre on the starting line paid major dividends against the Hurricanes, a team now winless in their last six games.
Galchenyuk, Pacioretty and Gallagher peppered Cam Ward's net with a total of eight shots, with each forward finishing the night with a plus-three rating.
"We had good chemistry today," said Galchenyuk, who had never scored more than one goal in a game before Tuesday. "Pacioretty made great plays on all three. I have to get used to his speed, and he has to get used to playing with me.
"My linemates made it really easy for me. We had a lot of fun out there tonight. It took me two and a half years to score two goals. It's even better to get three!"
With the Canadiens already ahead 1-0 after a rare first-period goal, Galchenyuk scored the eventual game-winner at 8:33 of the second period on a highlight-reel goal that implicated four players. Galchenyuk - for his first of the night - capped off a beautiful tic-tac-toe pass from Pacioretty on a sequence initiated by Gallagher and Andrei Markov. Ward was far from his crease when the puck found the back of the net.
After Carolina's Victor Rask gave the 'Canes life early in the third period, Galchenyuk put the game to bed after Pacioretty found him calling for a pass at the blue-line. The Russian made no mistake on the breakaway for his eighth of the season at 16:41 of the third to put Montreal ahead 3-1.
"He's a young guy with a lot of potential," said head coach Michel Therrien of Galchenyuk. "We're all aware of that. Games like this one give him confidence. He's creating good chemistry with Pacioretty, and he's already very used to playing with Gallagher.
Galchenyuk, 20, completed the hat trick just 69 seconds later, after a precise cross-crease feed from Pacioretty landed right on his stick. After the 4-1 goal, Galchenyuk's linemates razzed him by giving him the cold shoulder and refusing to celebrate with him.
"Pacioretty and Gallagher talked to each other to not celebrate with me," said Galchenyuk. "I was just skating by myself, and they were celebrating with the other players. All I could do was laugh out there."
After losing three consecutive games on the road, the Habs (20-10-2) have answered back with a three-game winning streak on their current home stand.
The Hurricanes (8-19-3), meanwhile, have now lost six in a row while scoring only one goal in each of those losses. Ward made 25 saves in defeat.
Down 2-1 in the third, Carolina failed to capitalize on its most promising sequence of the evening. With five minutes remaining on the clock, veteran Ron Hainsey was stopped by Carey Price just seconds after Elias Lindholm hit the post.
"That was a key moment in the game," said Hurricanes coach Bill Peters. "From that point, it gets extended and it looks like a one-sided game."
Carolina has given little support to its two goalies, Ward and Anton Khudobin, on the losing streak, as Peters' men have been outscored 18-6 since they last won a match. The 'Canes have scored more than two goals just once in their last nine games.
And it was more of the same on Tuesday for the Hurricanes, which put just one puck past Price on 26 shots.
"It's a tough league to win in when you're scoring one goal a game," said Jeff Skinner, who finished the game with a point and a minus-two rating. "We haven't been executing in the offensive end to earn a win."
In a game largely characterized by questionable passes and sloppy giveaways by both clubs - especially in the first two periods - the Canadiens made the most of key opportunities.
After missed chances at each end of the rink by Nathan Gerbe and then Markov, Montreal opened the scoring at 9:15 of the first when Brandon Prust scored his second of the year.
Ward was miles from his net after David Desharnais faked a wraparound and lured him from his crease before dropping the puck back in front to an open Prust.
An unusually undisciplined Hurricanes team - Carolina came into the game having taken a league-low 76 penalties - went to the box five times, but Montreal couldn't make the most of their odd-man chances despite their recently-improved power play.
Price is now 7-2-1 in his last 10 games at the Bell Centre versus the Hurricanes.
Notes: Out with injury for the Habs were Bryan Allen (flu), Lars Eller (upper body) and Mike Weaver (concussion). Carolina's top-scorer Jiri Tlusty missed his second consecutive game with an upper-body injury. The Canadiens have won seven of their last eight at home against the 'Canes.