Suspension over, Canadiens' Brendan Gallagher expected to face Rangers

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When a pro athlete is earning US$8 million, as Brendan Gallagher is this season, having to forfeit more than US$169,000 of that total might seem like a slap on the wrist.

But even multimillionaires don’t like to lose money.

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“We’re very fortunate to do what we do,” the veteran Canadiens winger said after Wednesday’s practice at the CN Sports Complex in Brossard. “We get compensated well for it. Obviously nobody likes to lose money, but it’s part of the job and you have to deal with it as it comes. It’s not like I had a choice. Once it happened, you’re most importantly trying to get back to being a good hockey player.

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“If you play long enough, you can earn it back.”

Having served his five-game suspension, Gallagher is eligible to make his return Thursday night (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN Radio-690, 98.5 FM), when the Canadiens meet the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Now in his 12th season with Montreal, Gallagher had been fined once before, but the suspension he received after delivering an illegal check to the head of Islanders defenceman Adam Pelech was the first of his career.

Wednesday marked the first time Gallagher was made available to the media to explain his side of the story. And he accepted full responsibility for the out-of-character incident. He said he had reached out to Pelech, who was injured on the play.

“I don’t think it’s something that’s going to occur again,” Gallagher said. “When it happened, obviously I surprised myself as well. It’s one of those things that hasn’t happened to me and I don’t expect it to happen again. We play a physical sport. I went to finish my check. Obviously I didn’t do it the proper way and I served my time.

“I was kind of the last guy back. I was trying to steer him up the right side of the ice. He was coming at me vertically. I was (defensively) responsible for him. I felt like I was in a vulnerable position. If he made a play he was going to jump up the ice and potentially get a breakaway. As I was coming across I wasn’t planning on hitting him; I was planning on steering him (into the boards). I made a last-second decision and felt I had to get a piece of him. At that point I had overshot my angle. It’s a fast game. It happened quick. The piece I tried to get, obviously, was the wrong piece. It wasn’t intentional by any means. I’m happy to see him back playing.”

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With Gallagher’s hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety held over the phone, and not in-person, the five-game suspension was the maximum he could receive. Last November, Boston’s Charlie McAvoy received a four-game suspension for a similar incident against Florida defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. McAvoy appealed the penalty, which ultimately was upheld by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

“The McAvoy hit was the one that came to mind,” Gallagher explained. “My argument was I was trying to make a hockey play. The guy had the puck. We (he and McAvoy) both got (them) in the head. I got the extra game. When you leave it in their hands you deal with the decision.

“It’s not a good feeling. We play this game hard. We play this game quick. I didn’t feel good about it, obviously. It’s not a part of my DNA as a player. It’s something that has happened once in my life. That’s it.”

Before the suspension, Gallagher was playing on a line with Tanner Pearson and Jake Evans. Josh Anderson subsequently assumed his position. Gallagher has eight goals and 16 points in 48 games.

Notes: Both captain Nick Suzuki and Anderson were given therapy days and didn’t practise Wednesday. … The Canadiens announced Samuel Montembeault will start against the Rangers in New York.

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