Brendan Gallagher racks up three goals as Canadiens crush Flyers 5-1

Gallagher’s heroics overshadowed a fine performance from Carey Price, who made 29 saves but missed his 44th career shutout.

Brendan Gallagher scored three goals as the Canadiens warmed up for a gruelling road trip by thrashing the Philadelphia Flyers 5-1 at the Bell Centre Thursday.

The win allowed the Canadiens to tighten their grip on the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, but they also moved three points back of third-place Toronto in the Atlantic Division standings. The Canadiens meet the Maple Leafs Saturday night to open a four-game road trip.

Gallagher’s heroics overshadowed a fine performance from Carey Price, who made 29 saves but missed his 44th career shutout when Michael Raffl scored with 9:37 to play. It was Price’s 311th career win, and he’s three wins shy of tying the late Jacques Plante as the Canadiens’ winningest goaltender.

The Canadiens wasted no time getting to Philadelphia’s Carter Hart, the 21-year-old rookie who has been touted as the Flyers’ goaltender of the future.

Gallagher started his night with a goal at the 58-second mark. Phillip Danault, who took Tuesday night off to attend the birth of his son, set up Gallagher on an odd-man rush. The second assist on the goal went to defenceman Brett Kulak, who sent Danault off with a no-nonsense clearing pass. The assist gave Danault a career-high 41 points.

Rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi made it 2-0 at 3:11 as the Flyers defence was again outmanned. Paul Byron took the puck to the net in a 2-on-1 situation and then passed back to Kotkaniemi, who scored his 11th of the season.

Between the first two goals, Mike Reilly took a shot that hit the post.

The defence didn’t give Hart too much help on the first two goals, but he had no excuse on Gallagher’s second goal of the game at 10:33. The goaltender left the tiniest of holes as he sealed off the post, but that’s where Gallagher’s shot from along the goal line went in.

At that point, Philadelphia coach Scott Gordon had seen enough and replaced Hart with veteran Brian Elliott. It was the second time in three nights that Hart has been yanked after giving up three goals on nine shots. On Tuesday, he gave up three goals to Tampa Bay and was pulled at 10:23.

Gallagher completed his hat-trick with his 26th goal of the season at 2:56 of the second period. Gallagher, who had come out of the penalty box, took a pass from Andrew Shaw in the slot and beat Elliott with a backhander. Max Domi’s assist gave him a career-high 53 points.

Tomas Tatar made it 5-0 when he showed the value of going to the net. He was along the boards when he passed to Domi down low, and then he cut to the middle to take a return pass.

The Flyers, who were already shorthanded on defence after Radko Gudas was suspended two games for high-sticking Nikita Kucherov, had a scare when Robert Hagg was struck in the face by a Jeff Petry shot late in the first period, but he returned to the game after collecting some stitches.

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