In a Zoom call Friday afternoon, a reporter asked Alain Vigneault if he wanted to “walk back” comments he made the previous day about Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher, noting that, at the time, the Flyers’ coach didn’t know the feisty winger had broken his jaw after being cross-checked by Matt Niskanen.
Instead of walking back his comments, Vigneault fanned the flames of the controversy.
Niskanen was suspended for one game by the league, and the Canadiens said Gallagher would miss the rest of the series, which the Flyers lead, three games to two, heading into Game 6 Friday night.
The Habs were 4-7-1 without Gallagher in the lineup this season
Niskanen missed one regular-season game – he was ill – and the Flyers defeated Ottawa in a Dec. 21 shooutout, 5-4. In that game, Phil Myers took Niskanen’s spot on the top pairing.
Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin took offense to some of Vigneault’s comments about the 5-foot-9 Gallagher. The coach had praised Gallagher’s competitiveness but hinted that the hunched-over Gallagher might not have gotten hit in the face if he wasn’t so short. He said it wasn’t Niskanen’s fault that Gallagher “might not be as tall as some of the other guys” and that it was “just a hockey play.”
Vigneault said Gallagher, who was bleeding from his mouth, “got up and seemed fine. He was talking to the referee. The whole time he was on the bench, he was talking to our players the rest of the game.”
On Friday, he stuck by his words.
“You don’t like to see any players get injured. There’s no doubt,” Vigneault said. “But at the end of the day, I can only state the facts. And the fact was, Gallagher got up, and his mouth didn’t shut up for at least five minutes – to the referee, to the linesmen and to our bench. So he didn’t look like he was hurt, other than obviously it looked like he had a cut. I believe if the Montreal medical personnel thought it was something serious, they probably would have taken him off and brought him inside.”
A few minutes later, when he spoke to a French-speaking reporter, Vigneault said of Gallagher: “I don’t know if he aggravated his injury through force of speaking to us and the officials. I’m not a doctor. I can’t say.”
Bergevin said he was “expecting more” and that he was “extremely disappointed that AV would make a comment [Thursday] about a player’s injuries without knowing the extent of it. Brendan Gallagher will be missing an extended period of time and will be eating his meals out of a straw, and I don’t wish that on anybody, and that includes the Flyers players.‘
With Niskanen suspended for a game, Vigneault inserted Shayne Gostisbehere into the lineup Friday in Game 6.
Gostisbehere was on the third pairing and had Robert Hagg as his defensive partner, and veteran Justin Braun took Niskanen’s spot on the top pairing with Ivan Provorov.
The other pairing remained the same: Travis Sanheim with Phil Myers at the start of the game.
Gostisbehere has played in three postseason games this year, including the round-robin tournament, and has a pair of assists and an “even” rating. He has played in Game 1 (a 2-1 win) and Game 2 (a 5-0 loss) in the series against Montreal, blocking six shots and registering a minus-2 rating.
“In the games we’ve used him, he’s played well. He’s has good jump,” Vigneault said. “There’s no doubt that coming back from the (knee) surgeries set him back a little bit, but he put in a lot of time and put in a lot of effort. He’s had a real good attitude, a team-first attitude, and tonight he’s going to get a chance to play. I’m confident he’s going to play well for us.”
As for losing Niskanen, who has more experience than any Flyers defenseman, Vigneault said “a veteran presence is always a key component to the playoffs. We’re going to have to do it by committee on the back end. There’s no doubt that Matt plays 5-on-5, plays big minutes, plays power play, and also kills penalties, so the committee will have to step up.”