Erik Gudbranson trudged off the ice at Air Canada Centre last month furious at what had just happened.
His Vancouver Canucks were embarrassed 6-3 by the Toronto Maple Leafs on the scoreboard in the eighth defeat of what would turn into a nine-game losing streak. That was only part of the reason for his seething anger.
It really started when veteran teammates Jannik Hansen and Daniel Sedin were felled by crushing and, in the case of the latter, controversial hits from Morgan Rielly and Nazem Kadri in quick succession that infuriated the Canucks.
There were also spears, fights and slashes on both sides in a wild third period before Toronto's Matt Martin started pummelling rookie Troy Stecher – an exchange that prompted Vancouver goalie Ryan Miller to jump in against the bruising winger. A full-line brawl ensued as the teams combined for 171 penalty minutes on the night, including 157 in the third alone. Miller and Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, who skated the length of the ice to join the fray, were both tossed.
After the game, Gudbranson made a point of yelling in the vicinity of reporters outside the locker rooms: "Matt Martin's dead."
The Canucks got a call from the league about those comments, and both teams did their best to cool the temperature of the rivalry, at least publicly, ahead of Saturday's rematch at Rogers Arena.
"I was just pissed off," Gudbranson said. "I think everybody can relate to the moment that I had at that time."
But the Vancouver hockey market is acutely sensitive to this type of exchange after former Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi decked Colorado Avalanche counterpart Steve Moore to the ice in 2004. Moore sustained a concussion and three fractured vertebrae as a result of the incident, ending his playing career. Bertuzzi eventually pleaded guilty to criminal assault causing bodily harm.
Moore's lawsuit against Bertuzzi and the Canucks, which was settled shortly before trial in 2014, alleged Vancouver put a bounty on him after his check injured captain Markus Naslund in a game earlier that season.
Gudbranson said Friday he has never had any intention of following through on the threats he shouted back on Nov. 5.
"It was kind of a fit of rage that I had," the hulking defenceman said. "I understand that it was wrong, but the number of times that I've said that is probably higher than most people expect. Do I mean it? No. That's the honest truth. I'm not going to kill the guy. But I was just frustrated at that point."
For his part, Martin said he never heard the comments directly and was solely focused on helping his team get a win Saturday.
"I would say both teams probably got caught up in the emotions," Martin said. "That's sports, that's hockey and things like that happen. It will be important to keep your emotions in check."
Rielly, who levelled Hansen – the Canucks forward hasn't played since because of broken ribs – seconds before Kadri smoked Sedin, said the Leafs aren't concerned about what's being talked about on the outside.
And like almost every player offered up by either team to reporters on Friday, he also towed the party line of trying to focus on getting two points and not the potential for extra curriculars.
"Obviously some things occurred, but we're just going out there to win a game," Rielly said. "That's our purpose, that's why we came here. We're not going to worry about anything else."
Kadri felt at the time his hit to the shoulder and head area on Sedin was clean, and the NHL's department of player safety agreed with its decision not to suspend the forward. He reiterated Friday he's happy Sedin didn't miss any action, adding that he will be ready for whatever comes his way against the Canucks.
"I'm always prepared, and obviously I'm not the only one out there, I have my teammates to help protect me," Kadri said. "We're going to be all in it together. Two points is more important than any kind of revenge in this league and I think both teams are well aware of that."
The NHL will be paying close attention to the game – senior league officials are expected in the building – and, like his players, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock tried to douse water on any talk of retribution. "What I have found over the years is that there is always a lot of talk and nothing happens," he said.
The Canucks (10-12-2) and Leafs (10-9-4) will each be looking to rebound after posting disappointing losses last time out. Vancouver fell 3-1 on Thursday at home to Anaheim, while Toronto was shut out 3-0 in Calgary a night earlier.