With emotions running high after the devastating Game 1 hit by Ottawa’s Eric Gryba that drew a suspension for putting Montreal forward Lars Eller in the hospital, the Canadiens responded verbally and on the ice.
Here are some key moments and observations from tonight’s contentious Game 2, which the Habs won 3-1 to even the series at 1-1:
• The pregame fireworks from Montreal’s Brandon Prust followed comments by Senators coach Paul MacLean, who tried to shift blame for Eller’s injury on to Montreal defenseman Raphael Diaz, who made an ill-advised risky pass into the middle of the ice that left Eller susceptible to a heavy hit. “It was a hockey play that went bad for Eller,” MacLean said. “Our player hit him, but 61 [Diaz] is the guy to blame.” Told of the comments, Prust responded by saying, “He [MacLean] has already shown enough disrespect. We don’t care what that fat, bug-eyed walrus has to say.”
• Hostilities from Game 1 boiled over before tonight’s opening puck drop. Ottawa’s Zach Smith and Montreal’s Ryan White were yapping at each other at center ice before Senators enforcer Matt Kassian stepped in to join the discussion. MacLean may have wanted to start the game with a bang, but Habs coach Michel Therrien didn’t. MacLean started both Kassian and Chris Neil, perhaps anticipating some trouble during the opening shift. But with the benefit of the last change, Therrien chose not to start Prust, his primary tough guy. That choice essentially diffused any chance of early mayhem and allowed Montreal to get off to a fast start. The Canadiens recorded the game’s first seven shots on goal.
• For the second night on a row, Prust was in the face of Senators goalie Craig Anderson. Whereas on Wednesday, Prust wrapped his stick around Anderson’s neck and had a goal disallowed but was not penalized, he did pick up a penalty in the first period after making just marginal contact during a skate-by through the crease. Anderson sold the penalty.
• An unusual scene three minutes into the second period led to Montreal’s first goal: two of Ottawa’s most reliable players, defenseman Erik Karlsson and goalie Anderson, goofed on a play. After Karlsson tried to flip a saucer pass across the ice, Canadiens center Ryan White reached out with his stick and poked the puck into a free lane behind the Sens’ defense. Anderson got caught in an indecision whether to dive out and smother the puck or poke-check it, leaving White with enough room to jab it underneath him for the first goal of the game.
• Just 53 seconds later, the Sens overcommitted to Anderson’s right side, allowing Alex Galchenyuk to feed Brendan Gallagher for Montreal’s second goal. What fans may not have seen, away from the play, was a conversation between Habs goalie Carey Price and referee Wes McCauley at the other end of the ice. Price was being jarred all night and he had just been given a good thump a few seconds earlier. Presumably, the official was asking Price if he wanted the play stopped, a choice McCauley may have given him because the puck was heading down to the other end of the ice. Price could be seen shaking his head. No, he was fine. That decision enabled the goal at the other end. Ah, but Price was just getting started dealing with his health.
• On the very next play, Montreal’s Jarred Tinordi and Ottawa’s Guillaume Latendresse, a former Canadien, bumped into Price, who calmly glided over to the bench and handed what appeared to be a displaced tooth to the trainer. That evened the goalie dental score at one apiece, since Anderson lost a tooth when a shot hit his mask in Game 1. So much for those masks.
• There was great recognition by Senators defenseman Andre Benoit, who saw that Prust had lost his stick as the Canadiens were about to take a penalty while Ottawa had an extra skater on the ice during the delayed call that led to Ottawa’s goal. Benoit had some marginal shooting room, but instead of risking a block, he fed his defense partner Chris Phillips on the right side, where Prust was trying to challenge the point without a stick. Phillips drove a shot through traffic that was deflected in by Ottawa’s Milan Michalek. Moments earlier, Sens forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau did a great job of screening Price, who had been bumped enough during the game, thank you very much. Price gave Pageau a heavy jab with his stick hand just before the shot beat him. Because of the extracurriculars, the Habs’ goalie wasn’t correctly set for the shot. It was virtually the only distraction that got him all night in what was otherwise a superb and courageous showing. In all, Price stopped 29 of 30 shots.
• Quick thought: the Senators outscored their opponents, 43-26, in second periods during the regular season, but were outscored, 74-69, during firsts, thirds and overtimes. So far in this series, Ottawa has been outscored, 5-1, in the two second periods while outscoring Montreal, 4-0, in the firsts and thirds.
• Montreal began the game without three injured forwards. Eller, who was released from the hospital on Friday morning; Max Pacioretty (upper body), the club’s leading scorer with 39 points during the regular season; and captain Brian Gionta, who scored 14 goals and did not miss a game. In their place, the Habs started Gabriel Dumont, Colby Armstrong and Jeff Halpern. None of them got on the scorecard, but Halpern recorded five shots in 12 minutes of action. Armstrong led the Habs with six hits and Dumont recorded three in just 3:25 of limited ice time. Neither Pacioretty, who played 20 minutes in Game 1, nor Gionta, who logged 16, had shown any outward signs of injury on Wednesday night. The Canadiens did not release any information about their status for Game 3, when the series shifts to Ottawa.
• The change of venue should help the Senators more than it should hurt the Canadiens. Ottawa’s home mark (15-6-3) was much better than its record on the road (10-11-3), but Montreal’s record away from home (15-7-2) was actually a tad better than its mark at Bell Centre (14-7-3). It should be a compelling contest.