Eric Gryba’s hit on Lars Eller Thursday night that left a pool of blood on the Bell Centre ice and the Montreal Canadiens forward with a concussion, plus facial and dental fractures also brought back a flood of bad memories for Glenn Healy.
Healy was tending goal for the New York Islanders in Game 7 of the Patrick Division final on May 14, 1993, when Pittsburgh forward Kevin Stevens suffered a terrible injury.
Stevens skated into the Islanders zone and attemped to hit defenceman Rich Pilon but instead was met by the latter’s visor that knocked Stevens unconscious.
Like Eller, Stevens hit the ice face first and was unable to use his hands or arms to cushion the blow. He required extensive surgery on his face including 100 stitches as doctors peeled back his skin and reassembled the bones in Stevens’s face using metal plates.
"The Pilon hit was to my right," Healy, now a Hockey Night in Canada analyst, told viewers in the second intermission. "Stevens’s face [as] they described after the game was like cracking an egg. He was never the same after that."
Hopefully, the same isn’t true for Eller, who tried to get up before being taken off the ice on a stretcher and spent the night in a Montreal hospital.
The HNIC panel agreed the Gryba hit is not worthy of a suspension, but Ottawa’s rookie defenceman will have a telephone hearing with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan on Friday at noon ET.
Eller was taken off the ice on a stretcher at 13:28 of the second period with the Canadiens leading 2-1 in Game 1 of an NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final.
'It’s not interference because he [Eller] just touched the puck [at the time of impact].'— HNIC analyst P.J. Stock
He was caught with his head down and absorbed Gryba’s open-ice hit near the Montreal blue-line after receiving a Raphael Diaz pass.
'He does not leave his feet'
Gryba, whose shoulder appeared to contact Eller’s head first on the hit, was assessed a five-minute interference penalty and game misconduct by referees Mike Leggo and Dan O’Rourke.
"He does not leave his feet," said HNIC analyst P.J. Stock of Gryba, a 25-year-old Saskatoon native. "He leads with his shoulder. It’s not interference because he [Eller] just touched the puck [at the time of impact].
"We’re looking at the blood all over the ice [from Eller bleeding from the forehead] and the call ends up being five [minutes] and a game misconduct. It’s a two [minute penalty] in my opinion."
Fellow HNIC analyst Elliotte Friedman agreed with Stock that the hit was only worthy of a minor penalty. He also came to the defence of Leggo and O’Rourke.
"I would defend the referees in this case," he said, "because when you’re in the middle of that [type of hit] and see that result [blood and stretcher] I can’t blame them for making that call.
"The hit, when you watch it [in slow motion] doesn’t look as bad as when you see it initially in regular speed."
Healy criticized Diaz for making "a stupid pass," saying the second-year NHL blue-liner set a player up for maybe a career’s worth of injuries.
"Everybody hopes that Eller’s all right," Friedman added. "That’s the number one thing I think everyone is thinking."
Ottawa scored three times in the third period for a 4-2 victory.