The first game of an all-Canadian series doesn’t usually take long to heat up and the Eastern Conference quarter-final between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens was no different.
The Sens squeaked out a 4-2 win in Game 1 in Montreal Thursday thanks to a 48-save performance from goaltender Craig Anderson.
Even with six goals on the night, everyone will be talking about what happened at the 13:28 mark of the second period.
Canadiens` centre Lars Eller was receiving a pass from Raphael Diaz near his own blue-line when he was checked by Eric Gryba. Eller's head began to bleed after it hit the ice and Gryba received a five-minute penalty for interference and a game misconduct.
Habs strike revenge quickly after hit
The hit came at a frantic time in the game. Just 19 seconds earlier, the Habs tied the game 1-1 on a goal from Rene Bourque, who was buzzing around the Senators' net all night long.
After the Gryba hit, Montreal fans also began to chant expletives as they became thirsty for revenge. The Habs quickly provided it.
Brendan Gallagher scored on the ensuing power-play, re-directing the puck from the edge of the crease to make it a 2-1 game.
After the game, Gallagher said the Habs were in control of the game but the two-man advantage was a big missed opportunity.
"That was a big part of the game … but it's going to be a long series and I'm sure (Ottawa) is saying that, too," he said.
Gallagher said the Eller hit was difficult to watch and the Habs would be trying to win the series for Eller. When asked about the hit post-game, Gryba said his elbow was down and he had "no intent to hurt him."
Habs' head coach Michel Therrien said Eller would remain in hospital overnight Thursday after losing consciousness on the ice and suffering facial and dental fractures.
3rd period lull for Habs
When all was said and done by the end of the second period, the Habs had registered 41 shots to the Senators' 19.
It was one of the Senators' rookies who made the open-ice hit and it was the Habs' rookie who scored the goal immediately following.
Then as the Senators seemed like they could not muster much of anything in the offensive zone, it was a Jakob Silfverberg slapshot from the boards that beat Carey Price just more than three minutes into the third period.
That was Silfverberg’s first career playoff point.
Two minutes later, Marc Methot picked up his first career playoff point with a seeing-eye slapshot for the go-ahead goal.
Sens penalty kill eases 2nd period onslaught
While it was a night of firsts, Ottawa only had a chance to win in the third period thanks to their veteran goaltender and their penalty kill — the NHL’s best in the regular season.
Ottawa managed to only give up one goal while short-handed and they were down only one goal after 40 minutes thanks to a series of big saves from Anderson during the five-minute power-play, which also included almost two minutes down two men.
Senators' head coach Paul MacLean said he was happy with the first and third periods, but not the second. He also applauded his goaltender and penalty kill for gaining momentum to come back from the 2-1 deficit in the third period.
He also blamed the Gryba hit on the pass from Montreal defenceman Raphael Diaz, which left Eller in a vulnerable position. Meanwhile, Sens' general manager Bryan Murray was heard speaking to former NHL referee Bill McCreary after the game, telling him the check was clean.
Guillaume Latendresse, a former top prospect of the Montreal Canadiens, scored an insurance goal with six minutes left to seal the win for Ottawa. The Sens scored first in the opening period when the puck bounced off the skate of Erik Karlsson.
The Senators’ franchise has a record of 6-4 in series where they win Game 1.