Two game suspension for Gryba, Habs forward calls Sens coach ‘bug-eyed, fat walrus’
Published Thursday, May 2, 2013 9:40PM EDT Last Updated Friday, May 3, 2013 10:00PM EDT
BROSSARD—It didn't take long for the first NHL playoff series between Canadian teams since 2004 to turn into a war both on and off the ice.
Angry Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien accused Ottawa Senators counterpart Paul MacLean of "disrespect" on Friday for his comments about a hit that put Habs centre Lars Eller in hospital.
Therrien said MacLean showed no compassion for the injured player when he placed the blame after Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final on Eller and Canadiens defenceman Raphael Diaz, who made the pass that led to Ottawa defenceman Eric Gryba's crushing hit.
Eller was released from hospital Friday and was resting at home. The team had no estimate on how long he would be out of action.
Gryba was suspended for two games by the NHL department of player safety for an "an illegal check to the head."
"I'm not allowed to comment on that hit," a seething Therrien said after a team meeting, but prior to the announcement of the suspension. "One thing I can do though is comment on MacLean's comment.
"Inappropriate comment. No respect for the player on the ice who was bleeding. No respect for his family in the stands. When he compared that to a hockey hit, the comparison he made was with the '70s, '80s and '90s. This is why we've got new rules, to avoid those hits when a player is vulnerable. That's why we've got rules.
"That was a lack of respect to Lars Eller and his family and I'm never going to accept that. Never."
After the game, MacLean absolved Gryba of blame and said players are taught to keep their head up, comparing the hit to those dished out in earlier eras by blue-liners like Doug Harvey, Barclay Plager and Scott Stevens. He also said Eller should be mad at Diaz, who he referred to only as "No. 61."
A day later, MacLean said he was simply defending Gryba, who faced a disciplinary hearing with the NHL.
"Everyone was blaming my player for doing what he's supposed to do," said MacLean. "All I did was point out what happened.
"I feel bad for the kid that got hurt but that's what happened. It was a hockey play that went bad for him. If that's being harsh or cruel ... that's too bad. Grow up."
Already without Eller, the Canadiens also announced that veteran forwards Brian Gionta and Max Pacioretty would miss Friday's Game 2 with upper-body injuries, forcing changes to their three top lines.
Eller, one of the Montreal's hottest forwards with 13 points in the final 12 games of the regular season, suffered a concussion, as well as facial and dental injuries. He was caught with his head down while trying to handle a Diaz pass in the second period of Ottawa's 4-2 win on Thursday.
Eller looked to be out cold on his feet as he crashed face-first to the ice. He was bleeding heavily as he was taken from the Bell Centre ice on a stretcher.
Canadiens enforcer Brandon Prust was still angry over the incident and at MacLean.
"I don't care what that bug-eyed, fat walrus has to say," Prust said of MacLean.
When asked if he felt Gryba should be suspended, Prust said: "I trust that, actually trust is a big word, I hope the league makes the right decision."
He paused and then added: "You know, I hope he doesn't get suspended."
MacLean was not put off by Prust's comments.
"I'm trying to coach the game and they can say whatever they want," he said.
Canadiens players said Diaz was wrongly blamed for making a "suicide" pass -- one that leaves the recipient open to a big hit.
"When the forward's open in front of you, you have to move the puck quick and that's what he did," said defenceman Francis Bouillon.
Reaction was heated among fans and media as well as the coaches. The Ottawa Sun ran a front page picture of a dazed Eller bleeding on the ice with the headline "First Blood Sens."
Many felt it was a legal hit, while others saw it as a hit to the head that, intended or not, warranted a suspension.
In Boston, Bruins coach Claude Julien saw it as a sign that things have changed in hockey.
"I remember when I played, if something like that happened, we were mad at our own player for the suicide pass," he said. "That's the way it was then.
"How it is today, maybe it's different. Maybe the players and the game are going in a different direction. I'm not going to start critiquing or deciding what's right and what's wrong here. It was just an unfortunate thing to happen in the game. You never want to see a guy get injured like that, no matter what team he plays on. At the same time, when you look at the replay, it doesn't seem like a dirty hit."
Added Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle: "Obviously it's a vicious bodycheck and you don't like to see a player get hurt. But again it's not up to me to determine if it's a suspendable offence."
From CTV Montreal, the players and coaches weigh in
After the game, everybody was talking more about the hit than the final score.
"It's tough seeing a guy laying in a heap with blood coming out," said Canadiens centre Ryan White. "You never want to see that."
While their coach remained tight-lipped, Habs players didn't hide their feelings.
"I'm not sure where the contact was but obviously it wasn't a clean play. It's something you've got to take out [of the game]," said winger Rene Bourque.
Replays showed Gryba making contact with Eller's head and body almost simultaneously.
"For me it looked it like it was right to the head. The league will look at it and take care of it," said rookie Montreal winger Brendan Gallagher. "It's tough to see your teammate down, tough to see him hurt. You just want to pick him up the best you can."
Gryba said he saw the replay and maintained the hit was clean.
"I stepped up to make a hit. I kept my shoulder down. He received the puck by the time I hit him," the six-foot-four, 222-pound blue-liner said. "My elbow was down and there was no intent to hurt him whatsoever and I hope that he's OK.
"I'm not out here to hurt anybody and it's never good to seeing anything like that. I hope he makes a full and speedy recovery."
Teammate Travis Moen expressed sadness.
“It’s never easy. Lars is a great teammate and great friend and to see him lying on the ice like that it’s tough to see, but he’ll bounce back.
Eller had eight goals and 22 assists for the Canadiens in the regular season and is a key part of the Montreal lineup.
Diaz, who was making his NHL playoff debut, was left rattled by the hit but said he didn't see Gryba coming.
"Of course you don't want to make passes like that. I just saw that (Eller) was open," said Diaz. "If I see the guy coming, I never would do that pass. It's not fun when you see your teammate like that."
Game 2 of the series is Friday night at the Bell Centre.
Ottawa won Thursday’s game 4-2 in spite of being outshot 50-31 by the Canadiens.