Ottawa Senators defenceman Eric Gryba has been handed a two-game suspension for an open-ice hit on Thursday that left Montreal Canadiens centre Lars Eller with a concussion, facial fractures, and several lost teeth.
The announcement came a few hours after Eller was released from hospital.
The Senators should be able to cope more easily with the absence of Gryba, their sixth defenceman, than the Habs will with Eller's - particularly given Montreal will play Friday's game without two other regular forwards, Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty.
In the immediate aftermath of Gryba's devastating hit, in the second period of the first round playoff series pitting the two teams, the Habs’ players and coaches bit their tongues.
That changed Friday.
The Habs didn’t bother to contain their rage at both the hit and comments from Ottawa coach Paul MacLean afterward.
In addition to fumbling with Eller’s name, he referred to Habs defenceman Raphael Diaz – whose pass led Eller into Ottawa defenceman Eric Gryba – by his uniform number, adding “whoever he is.”
That didn’t sit well with Habs tough guy Brandon Prust, who said “he’s shown enough disrespect, we don’t care what that bug-eyed, fat walrus has to say.”
It bears mentioning that Prust has previous history with the Senators, having faced the team in last season’s playoffs while with the New York Rangers – he expressed a similar level of ire when Sens winger Chris Neil pasted then-teammate Brian Boyle with a questionable hit.
MacLean, for his part, shrugged off the barb, saying it doesn’t matter what the Habs say about him.
While Prust said he hopes the league will punish Gryba for the hit – he had a lunch-time phone hearing with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan on Friday – he also inferred that it would be perfectly fine with him if the Sens rookie wasn’t suspended.
Left unsaid by Prust: He has no objection to meting out justice himself.
He wasn’t the only Hab to vent his spleen at MacLean.
Coach Michel Therrien delivered a caustic verbal blast at his counterpart, accusing MacLean of “a total lack of respect for Lars Eller and his family, I won’t accept that.”
That was in response to MacLean suggesting “the play’s been there ever since the game’s been around,” referencing hard-nosed defencemen Scott Stevens, Doug Harvey, Barclay Plager, and Gord Kluzak.
That piqued Therrien, who pointed out those players are all long-retired (or dead) and that “this is why we have new rules, to avoid those kinds of hits.”
Therrien said he had trouble seeing Eller lying face down on the ice in a pool of blood, and that “it hurts so much . . . he’s a good kid."
The cynical view is that Therrien’s emotional outpouring – essentially the first time this season he has shed his composure – is partly aimed at rallying his team.
After a 4-2 loss on home ice in game one and the injury to perhaps their most influential centre, the Habs will have to play Game 2 Friday without their captain Gionta, and leading scorer Pacioretty, both of whom are out with unspecified upper body injuries.
That means three of Montreal’s top-nine forwards will miss out. Therrien wouldn’t reveal who will take their place, although it seems clear veteran winger Colby Armstrong will be drafted in.
Minor-leaguers Mike Blunden and Gabriel Dumont skated on Friday morning. It’s likely one or both will see action.