The face, encountered in the bowels of Scotiabank Place, was flushed from exertion, and set in concentration.
That it belonged to Bill McCreary, the refereeing supervisor for the first-round series involving the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators, said it all.
The former NHL ref was locked in whispered hallway conversation with a couple of colleagues. There was much for them to discuss.
Like the 236 minutes in penalties handed out in game three – including nine game misconducts – and the bitterness expressed right through the final seconds.
There is true hatred in this series, and it is only building.
The Habs, clearly frustrated at being spanked on the scoreboard and taking the brunt of the physical pounding, took the first swing, literally and figuratively.
Then the Senators responded, convincingly.
And, in the considered opinion of their opponents, proceeded to rub the Habs' noses in it.
With 17.8 seconds to play in a fight-filled contest, and leading 6-1, Ottawa coach Paul MacLean called a timeout.
Habs defenceman Josh Gorges was clearly incensed by the move, and started jawing at the Sens’ bench – when the puck was dropped he fired a slap-shot that hit Ottawa’s Kyle Turris.
“We’re short-handed, the job is to get the puck hard down the ice, I had my head down, didn’t see him,” Gorges said through gritted teeth afterward.
Asked about the timeout, he said “I wasn’t very happy about that. There’s 17 seconds left in the game. I don’t know what was said. They have to right to call it. Nothing I can do.”
Habs coach Michel Therrien, who exchanged verbal barbs with MacLean earlier in the series over what he termed “disrespectful” comments concerning a nasty hit on Habs’ centre Lars Eller, took another run at his opposite number.
“They played a good game, there was a lot of emotion in the air, when two teams are competing hard in the playoffs these things can happen,” he began.
“We were beaten by a good team tonight, but one thing’s for sure, the timeout with 17 seconds – that’s pretty rare. You let the players dictate, as a coach you never want to humiliate the other team. That’s exactly what MacLean was trying to do, to me it’s a total lack of class. When I mentioned it to the referee, at 17 seconds, he’s never seen that,” he continued.
MacLean, no shrinking violet, thrust the blame directly back at the Habs.
“Under circumstances instigated by the Montreal Canadiens, I was forced to protect my players,” he said.
When the “classless” barb was mentioned, MacLean said “okay, so this is another disrespectful thing, is it?”
“He said he was humiliated,” added a reporter.
“Well, with all due respect, they were doing a pretty good job of that themselves . . . they didn’t need my help,” he said.
He went on to say that he hopes “it will be a busy night in the department of player safety” and that Gorges – who he didn’t name – and other Habs will have their behaviour scrutinized.
There was a hockey game played as well, incidentally, and it didn’t go well for the Habs, who played into the Senators’ hands by trying to raise the physical and toughness stakes.
“We were embarrassed out there, I was embarrassed personally, I take a lot of the blame in a game like that, it's time to look in the mirror and time to be better,” said Montreal winger Max Pacioretty.
The Habs will also have to contend with an emerging force – under-sized Ottawa centre Pierre-Gabriel Pageau, who potted his first NHL hat trick in his first playoff game in his hometown.
Given the Senators’ long absence from the NHL, there are a lot of people in the National Capital Region who root for the Montreal Canadiens.
The Pageau family of Gatineau is not one of them; their allegiances generally lie with whoever the Habs’ opponent is.
So it’s highly doubtful 20-year-old Jean-Gabriel Pageau, reportedly a childhood Red Wings fan, will have felt any pangs at 4:40 of the second period on Sunday when he burst in alone on the Montreal net, sprung by Sergei Gonchar’s lovely pass.
In the event, he ripped a hard wrist shot past Habs goalie Carey Price’s blocker to give Ottawa a 2-1 lead in a fight-filled contest the Sens dominated 6-1 enroute to taking a 2-1 series lead.
It was Pageau’s first playoff goal in his first home playoff game – a remarkable feat that he’ll also remember for the errant stick he took in the mouth while celebrating.
As his teammates gathered around him in the corner of the rink and spotlights danced around them, Pageau was holding them off and looking for a tooth that had been knocked out (this series has been a boon for team dentists).
“I only lost one today. I wish I could lose another one at the beginning of the next one,” he laughed.
Pageau, who played junior for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and Gatineau Olympiques, is far from the Sens’ most-heralded prospect; the 20-year-old was a fourth-round draft pick and was a fourth-liner in the minors to start the season, but has come on by leaps and bounds.
From marginal prospect to being serenaded with cries of “Pa-geau, Pa-geau, Pa-geau” – it’s been a wild ride.
“I hope I can keep it up,” he smiled.
Pageau, who scored two game-winning-goals in the regular season, is providing the key offensive punch for Ottawa in a series that started nasty and has only deteriorated from there.
He seems to be quite effective at this goal-scoring thing, and added another in the second minute of the third period to give Ottawa a 3-1 lead, becoming the youngest Senator to score two in a game in the post-season (Daniel Alfredsson and Rene Bourque had traded first period power-play goals).
And with two minute left in the game, the hats came raining down as Pageau buried a power-play goal past Price.
“He’s going to have a hard time getting across the bridge tonight,” said MacLean.
By the time the puck was fished out of the net, the game was well and truly over, and the Habs’ humiliation complete.
After Turris made it 4-1 at 7:04 of the third period, and the ill will in this series spilled over in spectacular fashion.
Therrien threw out his fourth line, MacLean responded in kind, Ottawa’s Zack Smith cross-checked Montreal’s Ryan White, White replied with a vicious slash, and then everything went sideways.
All 10 players on the ice shed their gloves in a massive line brawl that was reminiscent of hockey’s wild and woolly era in the 1970s.
With the crowd in a frenzy, Ottawa tough guy Matt Kassian waved his arms to encourage them further. Smith and Chris Neil left the ice with their arms raised.
“I always do that,” Neil said later, “that’s my thing.”
The net result was a Sens power-play, winger Jakob Silfverberg snapped a shot past Price to make it 5-1 eight seconds after the gloves and sticks were picked up.
As the benches became sparsely populated – 126 penalty minutes were doled out over just 1:27 in playing time – the ill will showed no signs of abating.
The Habs’ P.K. Subban, who was a target for Ottawa fore-checkers all night, dropped the gloves with former World Junior teammate Turris, earning an instigator and a misconduct.
Montreal rookie Brendan Gallagher scrapped with fellow pint-sized rookie Cory Conacher – who was later cross-checked by Rene Bourque.
While much attention will doubtless be lavished on the side-show elements to this game, the over-riding narrative is that Ottawa coach Paul MacLean succeeded in coaxing more competitiveness and physical involvement out of his team.
With the advent of the playoffs comes a new set of requirements.
The Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators are not names that immediately leap to mind as two of the heavier-hitting teams in the NHL.
But in the three games they’ve played in the post-season, they’ve been smashing and banging each other with abandon.
The Canadiens led the hit parade in dominating game two (a 3-1 Montreal win), and there’s no way Ottawa was going to let them do it again in their home building.
Hits aren’t the most reliable stat that the NHL keeps, but the Sens do tend to play the body more at home and so it was on Sunday.
Just 19 seconds into the game, Subban was lining up Senators winger Erik Condra for a hit along the boards, but Condra saw him coming and smoked Subban with what looked suspiciously like a cross-check to the face.
Subban fell to the ice clutching his face, the referees were unmoved, and play carried on.
Neil freely allowed before the game that “we want to be hard on (Andrei) Markov and Subban. They’re guys we’ve got to finish checks on if we want to wear them down. If they’re playing 28 minutes a night, we want to make it a hard 28 minutes.”
Neil was true to his word.
In the middle of the first period, Montreal’s Brandon Prust steamrolled Ottawa’s Jared Cowen; within seconds, Neil slammed into Habs defenceman Josh Gorges and then buried Prust with a hit near the boards.
A few moments later, Subban was sent crashing to the ice by Colin Greening.
The Sens’ deployment of the tenderizer may well have had the desired effect.