TORONTO — Brendan Gallagher dragged the Canadiens into the fight with their backs against the wall.
Now they’re left to wonder if the heart-and-soul winger will be available when Montreal faces elimination for a second time in Game 6 of the team’s first-round series with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Gallagher snapped a long scoring drought in the Canadiens’ 5-3 victory Wednesday that brought their deficit in the best-of-seven series to 3-2. But he took a cross-check late in the third period from Philadelphia defenceman Matt Niskanen, and his availability for Friday remains a question mark.
The 28-year-old, who lost at least one tooth on the play and was bleeding from his mouth, hasn’t been made available to the media since, leading to speculation he might not be healthy enough to play in the next do-or-die encounter.
“Truthfully, we’re still waiting for feedback medically,” Canadiens interim head coach Kirk Muller said Thursday morning. “I believe he has so far not left the bubble.”
That’s important, because if Gallagher did have to go to hospital outside the league’s secure zone, he would potentially be subject to a four-day quarantine and testing for COVID-19 that would rule him out for the remainder of the series.
The Canadiens, meanwhile, were not happy with the Niskanen play. They not only forwarded in-house video of the incident from ice level, but also posted a slow-motion version to social media.
“We’re gonna leave it with the league,” Muller said. “The video will show what it shows.”
Niskanen was scheduled to have a hearing with the NHL’s department of player safety Thursday.
“A cross-check right to the face,” hard-nosed Montreal blue-liner Ben Chiarot said. “An unsuspecting guy, Gally’s in the corner battling for the puck, turns around and gets a mouthful of Niskanen’s stick.”
Philadelphia head coach Alain Vigneault, not surprisingly, had a different take as the gamesmanship for both teams hit near-fever pitch.
“Gallagher got up and seemed fine,” he said of the five-foot-nine forward. “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 (Niskanen’s) fault that he might not be as tall as some of the other guys.
“He competes as big if not bigger than anybody else. It just seemed (like) a hockey play that unfortunately cut him.”
The Canadiens won Game 5 despite playing nearly two periods without centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi after he has assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding on Flyers defenceman Travis Sanheim, who was also left bloodied.
“For us … it was a hockey play, finishing of his check,” Muller said. “Getting the penalty and the game (misconduct), we can live with that.”
Vigneault said the temperature of the series has been turned up, including Philadelphia centre Sean Couturier blindsiding Montreal winger Artturi Lehkonen late in Game 5.
“There’s no love,” Vigneault said. “The hit on (Sanheim), it was a blow upwards towards the head that cut him.
“(Couturier), at the end of the game, sometimes boys will be boys. But (Niskanen’s) hit, his angle doesn’t change. It’s just a hockey play in my estimation.”
Chiarot said the way Gallagher responded after getting benched in Game 4 was an inspiration for a team that had been shut out in consecutive contests.
“He’s been a heart-and-soul guy for this team for a long time,” Chiarot said. “He leads the way with his work ethic and how determined he is.
“If a guy like that’s going to be going that hard, everybody else better match that intensity.”
When asked if Gallagher was a serious doubt for Friday, Muller said he would never count the Delta, B.C., product out.
“You know how tough he is,” said the former NHLer. “He had probably the most impact (on Game 5).
“He’s the heartbeat of our team.”
ON THE MOTTE
Canucks fourth-liner Tyler Motte scored the first two playoff goals of his career in Vancouver’s 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues in Wednesday’s Game 5 — a result that pushed the reigning Stanley Cup champions to the brink in Edmonton.
“Love to see it,” Canucks leading scorer Elias Pettersson said. “He eats pucks, he works hard, he lays hits. I was super happy for him because he deserves it.”
EDLER’S STATUS UP IN THE AIR
Vancouver defenceman Alexander Edler, who was cut by a skate on the side of his face in the second period, didn’t return for the third.
Canucks head coach Travis Green said afterwards that was a surprise, but wouldn’t say Thursday if the veteran blue-liner will be available for Game 6.
BLUES’ CREASE CONUNDRUM
St. Louis head coach Craig Berube has yet to decide on his starting goalie for Friday.
Jordan Binnington, who backstopped the Blues to their first title last season, lost the first two games of the series. Jake Allen then won back-to-back appearances, but allowed four goals on 30 shots Wednesday.
Berube said he told his players before the series they might have to go the distance to advance.
“We wear teams down over time,” he said. “And we’re going to get to a Game 7.”
Montreal rookie centre Nick Suzuki turned some heads when he tapped the top of Philadelphia goalie Carter Hart’s mask after Joel Armia scored his second goal of Game 5.
“Wasn’t really thinking,” Suzuki said Wednesday night. “Just excited for the goal. Nothing personal.
“I was just thinking, ‘I probably shouldn’t do that.’ It happened, but I wasn’t trying to be unsportsmanlike.”
When asked about the sequence Thursday, Vigneault answered in French: “Very interesting.”
TIME TO KILL
Boston Bruins president Cam Neely’s team is into the second round following a five-game victory over Carolina.
The Hall of Famer said he’s been passing bubble time watching other teams play, but admitted being at Hotel X — a stone’s throw from Lake Ontario — has been tough.
“You have to find ways to keep yourself occupied,” Neely said. “You stare outside a lot. The weather’s been pretty good here and we’re close to the lake.
“So it’s a little teasing.”