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Canadiens Finding Their Groove in Overtime

TORONTO — On Dec. 12, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien explained a 2-1 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins by noting that his team hasn’t spent a lot of time practising three-on-three situations.

After scoring in overtime in a 4-3 win over the Dallas Stars on Wednesday, captain Max Pacioretty said there still hasn’t been a lot of work done on the OT format, but he noted the Canadiens are learning on the job.

“The road hasn’t been perfect for us this year,” said Pacioretty. “I think someone said we’ve had five overtime games in a row. We haven’t been great in overtime, so maybe it’s a blessing we’ve played this many overtime games in a row and we’ve gotten a lot better at it.”

The Canadiens have won three of those five OT games and they head into Saturday’s game against the Maple Leafs (7 p.m., CBC, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio) with a 3-1-2 record on their holiday road trip.

The Canadiens’ depth has been tested during the past month with forwards Alex Galchenyuk, David Desharnais and Andrew Shaw, along with defencemen Andrei Markov and Greg Pateryn, on the injured reserve list, and they lost two more forwards in the Dallas game. But the players received some good news on Thursday when they learned Galchenyuk and Markov will rejoin the team and practise Friday in Toronto. The team also called up forwards Nikita Scherbak and Sven Andrighetto from the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps.

Brendan Gallagher returned to Montreal for a medical evaluation. He was injured when he was hit on the left hand by a shot from teammate Shea Weber. Last season, Gallagher sustained two broken fingers on the same hand when he stopped a shot from the Islanders’ Johnny Boychuk.

Paul Byron left the game after he was drilled by Patrick Sharp. Therrien would only say that Byron suffered an upper-body injury, but the contact bore all the earmarks of a concussion.

While Gallagher has been mired in a slump — he has one goal and one assist in the last 12 games — he has joined Pacioretty and Phillip Danault to form the Canadiens’ most effective line on this trip.

Pacioretty said the Canadiens have been able to weather the injuries and maintain their position atop the Atlantic Division because they believe in Therrien’s system.

“We’ve bought into the system and we’re winning,” said Pacioretty, who earned a spot in the Canadiens’ record book with his overtime goal.

Pacioretty, who also scored in overtime on Tuesday in Nashville, has eight career OT goals and he moved past Aurèle Joliat, Howie Morenz, Johnny Gagnon — seven each — and Saku Koivu (six) for the most OT goals in franchise history. And the figure filberts at the Elias Sports Bureau noted that Pacioretty is the first Montreal player to score in overtime on consecutive days since the five-minute, sudden-death overtime period was re-introduced for the 1983-84 season. The last player to accomplish that feat was Anaheim’s Corey Perry on March 19-20, 2011. Pacioretty scored twice Wednesday to boost his season total to 18.

“I think he is playing some of the best hockey I have ever seen him play,” said Nathan Beaulieu, who had a goal and two assists in Dallas. “He is so calm out there. He has taken the bull by the horns this year, being a big leader and taking that ‘C’ and running with it. He is our leader and he is rallying a lot of guys around him right now; guys that aren’t necessarily used to playing with him, because we have injuries. He is doing a good job leading that line.”

The Maple Leafs are 12 points behind the Canadiens, but they are only two points out of a playoff spot and they have collected points in nine of their last 10 games with a 6-1-3 record. The Canadiens are 2-0 against the Leafs this season, but both games were at the Bell Centre and both ended 2-1.

The Leafs boast two of the top rookies in the league in Auston Matthews (20-14-34 totals) and Mitch Marner (10-19-29). They are 2-3 in the rookie scoring race behind Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine (21-15-36).

The Canadiens are back home Monday to play the Washington Capitals, but they return to the road for back-to-back games in Winnipeg Wednesday and Minnesota Thursday.

phickey@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/zababes1

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