There was blood. There was biting (allegedly). There were punches thrown.
There were 116 minutes in penalties – all but 22 of them in the third period – and five ejections.
In other words, just another fevered Saturday night in the long and ill-tempered history of the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
More importantly for Toronto there was also a crushing victory, 6-0, to run the Leafs’ road record to 6-1, tied with Pittsburgh for most wins away from home in the Eastern Conference.
This is a game that will leave a mark, and not just for the result, which consigned the Habs to their third straight loss.
Montreal’s players were incensed at former Hab and current Leafs centre Mikhail Grabovski, who is alleged to have bitten Montreal’s Max Pacioretty on the arm during a third period scrum.
Video replays suggested Grabovski should indeed expect a call from the league to discuss inappropriate deployment of his chompers.
The Canadiens were also unhappy because of Toronto enforcer Colton Orr’s late third period run at top-line centre Tomas Plekanec – who jumped out of the way of what appeared to be an attempt to knee him.
That touched off another melee, which saw pint-sized Montreal captain Brian Gionta leap to Plekanec’s defence, Orr briefly pawed at Gionta before Rene Bourque interceded – and was flattened with a punch in the mouth for his trouble.
“When it gets lop-sided,” Montreal goalie Carey Price said afterward, “the jokers take over.”
After the game Plekanec was matter-of-fact, saying he hadn’t yet seen the replay of the incident, “I saw (Orr) at the last second and just tried to jump over him.”
Asked if he felt Orr targeted his linemate’s knee, Gionta said “that’s what it looked like to me.”
Habs coach Michel Therrien called on the league to review Orr’s attempted check.
But the incident that had the Habs steaming was the one involving Grabovski – who has previous history with the Bell Centre crowd from his long-running feud with former Habs and Belarusian countrymen Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn.
“This shouldn’t be happening. Drop your gloves. Fight. Stand up for yourself,” said a livid Josh Gorges (who tangled with Toronto enforcer Frazer McLaren after the Orr/Plekanec incident, the big Toronto winger smiled throughout and plainly pulled his punches).
Added winger Brendan Gallagher: “It’s something that should never happen in sports.”
The Leafs, not surprisingly, saw things somewhat differently.
“(Brandon) Prust, we know what kind of player he is. He goes out and cheap-shots Grabovski. What are we supposed to do? Not play the rest of our players the rest of the night? They got another thing coming. That’s not happening to our group,” said Toronto coach Randy Carlyle.
Asked what he saw of the incident, Carlyle said: “All I saw, Grabovski was engaged with Prust. All I saw was Pacioretty grab him from behind. That’s all I saw.”
Therrien, who could be seen yelling at Carlyle from the Habs bench late in the game, didn’t care to escalate the war of words afterward.
“I have no comment,” he said when asked about Carlyle’s remarks. Beyond the sideshow, there was a hockey game played, and it did reveal a few things.
First: the Leafs are playing a well-organized, fast-paced, high-pressure brand of hockey, and the Habs simply couldn’t deal with it.
Toronto is also getting some sterling service from the likes of James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel – and from Nikolai Kulemin and Leo Komarov, who set the tone for Toronto’s swarming forecheck.
Montreal, on the other hand, is floundering because of some familiar issues: incompetent defensive zone coverage, insufficient net presence at the other end, and a mystifying lack of intensity to open games.
If the Habs looked like a team transformed in the first eight games of the season, they have looked suspiciously like last year’s Eastern Conference bottom-dwellers for long stretches of the last three.
This qualifies as the first mini-crisis of Therrien’s second tenure with the club – and he didn’t handle it like the old, volcanic Michel Therrien.
He stayed composed in his post-game remarks – but he is no soft touch. Off-day practices have been held at 11 a.m. almost without exception this year, Monday’s will be at 9:30, and one senses it’s not just because the Habs are flying out to Florida for a two-game swing.
Gionta said the news isn’t all bad, despite the 6-0 drubbing and all that accompanied it.
“It’s frustration boiling over, and guys having some passion and not rolling over,” he said. “There’s things to learn from every loss we’ve had. We’re still growing as a team and we’re not content with where we are.”
The mood was understandably lighter in the Toronto room, the Leafs have now won three in a row for the first time this season.
“We had a real good end to the road trip and that’s what we’re focused on,” said captain Dion Phaneuf. “We’re not going to get into the emotions of what happened there. We’ve got to follow this up, and keep on building on games like this.”
It was obvious from the first shift that this would be a long night for Montreal.
With the Habs camped in the Toronto end, Kulemin pressed Montreal defenceman Andrei Markov at the blue line, and when the puck caromed off his skate, casually outraced the Habs’ blue-liner, shouldering him off the puck.
Komarov charged into the play, and when Alexei Emelin skated to cut off Kulemin, it was a simple matter of shovelling a pass over for Komarov, who by then had beaten Markov to the net.
It was an indication that heavy minutes have taken their toll on the 34-year-old Russian, who was limited to 20 games over the past two years by knee injuries.
As they did in the first meeting between the teams, the Leafs opened the scoring with their first shot – Komarov became the first Estonian born player to score an NHL goal at the 59 second mark of the first period.
Just over five minutes later it was 2-0 through Tyler Bozak.
The Leafs centre was simply dominant at the faceoff dot – a perfect 8-0 in the first period – and when Habs pivot David Desharnais was tossed out of the circle he made short work of Erik Cole, drawing the puck straight back to the right point.
Van Riemsdyk was on hand to deflect John-Michael Liles’ point shot onto Price, who made a spectacular save but could do nothing to prevent Bozak from sliding in the rebound – Cole having lost his check.
The Canadiens started the second period on the front foot, but it was the Leafs who found the net 3:36 in, van Riemsdyk eluding Gallagher to wrong-foot Price with a shot (Emelin was once again at sea).
When Toronto went to the power-play at the 17:42 mark – Rene Bourque having hit Liles in the face with his stick – leading scorer Kessel scored his second goal in as many games, ringing a gorgeous wrist shot off the base of the post and past Price as van Riesmdyk shielded the goalie’s view.
The Leafs confirmed the rout in the third period when Orr scooted past a pinching P.K. Subban, his backhand shot at Price bounced favourably for Korbinian Holzer, who scored his second of the season to make it 5-0.
In truth, the game was long over by then.
And by the time frustrations boiled over in the third period – first Prust fought Mark Fraser, then Gallagher tussled with Mike Kostka – there was nothing left to play for.
When the Grabovski incident happened, Subban tried engage Holzer and urge him to drop his gloves, the German laughed and appeared to point at the scoreboard.
When the Leafs were gifted a late five-on-three power-play – less than a minute later – it was a simple matter for Phaneuf to rifle home a sweet pass from Kessel to twist the knife a little deeper.
By then the hundreds of Toronto fans in the arena were serenading Price and taunting the home side with ironic chants of “Ole, ole, ole”.Report Typo/Error