You didn’t need ESP to predict what was going to happen in the third period of Saturday’s game between the Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.
As veteran observer Ron Reusch and I discussed the Canadiens’ dismal play in the first two periods, we came to an agreement that we would soon be seeing Brandon Prust step up to defend the honour of the bleu-blanc-rouge.
And sure enough, Prust stepped on the ice with a little more than a minute gone in the third period and started swinging. Not punches exactly. He and Toronto’s Mark Fraser have done these things before and they grabbed each other and swung each other around in what resembled an ice-dancing routine.
A very bad ice-dancing routine.
If the exercise was supposed to light a fire under the Canadiens, it failed because if the fight had gone to the judges, Fraser was the winner.
By the time the final siren sounded on the Leafs’ 6-0 victory, there had been two more fights — the Canadiens lost them both — and an ugly scrum during which Mikhail Grabovski may or may not have bitten Max Pacioretty. Neither player chose to address the incident after the game, but Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien said the evidence was on the tape and “I’m sure the league is going to pay attention to that.”
Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle, who engaged in a verbal battle with Therrien, blamed the scrum on — who else? — Prust.
“Prust, we know what kind of player he is,” Carlyle said. “He goes out and cheap-shots Grabovski. What are we supposed to do? Not play the rest of our players the rest of the night? They got another thing coming. That’s not happening to our group.”
Therrien was also hoping that league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan looks at Colton Orr’s attempt to take out Tomas Plekanec’s knee. That one is also on the tape, but the NHL declined to schedule a hearing on the matter. Grabovski originally had an NHL disciplinary hearing set for 4 p.m. Sunday, but the hearing will now be done by phone at 11 a.m. Monday.
Josh Gorges, who is not known as a fighter, went after Orr, but he had the good fortune to be cut off at the pass by Frazer McLaren, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound goon with a conscience. He used his considerable reach advantage to keep Gorges at bay. There were some folks in the Twittersphere who suggested McLaren showed a lack of respect by laughing at Gorges during the scrap. But McLaren said he did respect Gorges, which is why he tried to tie up the Canadiens defenceman. McLaren added he didn’t want to hurt Gorges.
Rookie Brendan Gallagher also tried to step out of his weight class and took a pounding from Michael Kostka, who was responding to a hit from the feisty Gallagher. At 5-foot-9 and 178 pounds (maybe), Gallagher shouldn’t be fighting anyone, but the kid is going to attract some attention because he goes hard every time he’s on the ice — something that can’t be said of most of his teammates.
The ugliness in the third period was different from the ugliness fans witnessed in the third period of the Canadiens’ two previous games when they surrendered the lead. But the last three games have raised questions about the identity of this team.
Therrien and general manager Marc Bergevin set out to build a team that’s tough to play against. They have been anything but in their three-game losing streak.
Therrien has talked about using the team’s speed, but he conceded Saturday it was the Leafs who rode their speed to a one-sided victory.
The result was a third period that did nothing to celebrate what is good in this game.
Montreal goaltender Carey Price summed it up when he said: “When it gets lopsided, the jokers take over.”
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