Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The postseason battle currently brewing
between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens isn't the prettiest brand
of hockey going on right now, but it's certainly been captivating.
Heading into this series, players from both the Canadiens and Senators
downplayed this matchup as a rivalry. After all, many fans of both teams place
the Toronto Maple Leafs at the top of their list of most-hated teams, forcing
Ottawa and Montreal into a sort of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend"
However, it would be hard for anyone to deny the Sens-Habs rivalry now,
especially after what transpired in Game 3 in Ottawa.
The Senators blitzed Montreal in a 6-1 rout on Sunday to take a 2-1 lead in the
Eastern Conference quarterfinals, but what really made headlines was the 236
penalty minutes amassed by two clubs that have learned to hate each other.
The NHL playoffs have their way of pitting two franchises against each other
and making instant enemies out of them. Sure, Montreal and Ottawa have played
in the same division for two decades now, but it's taken the first postseason
encounter between the teams to truly bring out the animosity.
It's like grilling a steak: Marinating the meat for hours can only help, but it
takes a few minutes on the flames to get the job done.
The bad blood in this series began in Game 1 when Ottawa defenseman Eric Gryba
caught an unsuspecting Lars Eller with a vicious check, knocking the Canadiens
forward out of the game and, perhaps, the series. The hit was analyzed from
every angle, and as usual, some folks thought it was clean and part of the
sport while others labeled it dirty.
While the league agreed with the latter group and handed Gryba a two-game
suspension, Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean opined how Eller's injury was the
fault of a bad pass from his teammate and not the result of a dirty hit.
MacLean's take didn't earn him any friends in the Montreal locker room,
including Habs forward Brandon Prust, who responded to Ottawa's mustachioed
coach by uttering the immortal words, "I don't care what that bug-eyed fat
In Game 3, however, players were armed with more-than-clever insults, as a
lopsided game on the scoreboard turned into a reason to fight. Kyle Turris
scored seven minutes into the third period to make it 4-1 Ottawa and on the
ensuing face-off a line brawl broke out among all 10 skaters on the ice.
"I haven't seen that in a long time in the National Hockey League. But that's
hockey, stuff happens," Senators head coach Paul MacLean said. "I thought we
reacted well under the circumstances and the duress that we were put under and
we defended ourselves."
After the game, Montreal's Michel Therrien took umbrage with MacLean's
decision to call a timeout with 18 seconds left in the third period, leading
to another war of words between the two sides.
"You never want to humiliate the other team, and that's exactly what MacLean
wanted to do. To me, it was a total lack of class," Therrien said. "Even when
I said that to the referee, he said he'd never seen a timeout with 17 seconds
to go. It was 6-1."
MacLean, of course, claimed he was only trying to protect his team.
"My only recourse was to take the timeout because I didn't want anyone to get
hurt," MacLean said. "In order to protect my players under circumstance that
were instigated by the Montreal Canadiens, I was forced to protect my players.
I will do that every time."
MacLean was informed of Therrien's accusation that he called the timeout to
"humiliate" the Canadiens, and Ottawa's bench boss shot right back.
"I think they were doing a pretty good job of that themselves," he said. "They
didn't need my help at all."
While all this back and forth is fun for hockey fans, it doesn't seem to be
doing any good for the second-seeded Canadiens, who seem to be bogged down in
all the name calling.
Meanwhile, MacLean has a way of saying something controversial to the press
while wearing a knowing smirk on his face. At times he appears to know exactly
what he's doing and is almost baiting Montreal into focusing more on the
extracurricular stuff rather than the game itself.
Down 2-1 in the series, the Canadiens will have their maturity tested again in
Game 4 on Tuesday, when Gryba is due back in the lineup. Taking a page from
his head coach, Gryba almost dared Montreal to lose its temper when the clubs
reconvene at Ottawa's Scotiabank Place.
"I'm sure guys are going to look for an opportunity to take a run at me," Gryba
said, according to Sportsnet's Ian Mendes.
It's Therrien's job to make sure his players aren't worried about Gryba, or
the latest thing MacLean said.
Although the hatred built up in this series has been fun to watch from the
outside, Montreal has to find a way to play smart amid the chaos or the
Senators will frustrate them all the way to a first-round exit.
The Sports Network