For more than a few minutes, it looked like the Charlestown Chiefs taking on the Syracuse Bulldogs. Two-handed slashes. Chin-seeking elbows. Fights. A full-blown line brawl followed by a steady skate to the penalty box. The only thing missing was Ogie Oglehorpe's afro.
Forget about calling the opposing coach "a bug-eyed fat walrus," the Montreal Canadiens-Ottawa Senators match-up has gone from cold-blooded to fever-pitched, from one two-game suspension to who knows what else could happen in this hot-house of a series.
We always knew Montreal-Ottawa had the geography to make for an interesting duel. These are the two closest cities competing in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. But what transpired Sunday at the Scotiabank Place was a stream of nastiness fueled by a lopsided score (6-1 for Ottawa) and an exploding rivalry.
It began Sunday with Ottawa trying to answer back to Montreal answering back after the Game 1 hit by Senators' defenceman Eric Gryba that sent Lars Eller of the Canadiens to the hospital. The Senators came out body slamming in Game 3 and the Canadiens soon fell behind to Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the Ottawa forward who ended up scoring his first NHL hat trick and getting a tooth knocked out of his mouth. According to the script, that meant the only thing Montreal could do was try and answer back for Ottawa answering back.
So after Ottawa upped the score to 4-1, the ensuing face-off produced a hefty line brawl. All totalled on the night, there were multiple scraps, eight game misconducts and more than 230 minutes in penalties. In fact, the tooth-for-a-tooth aggression carried right to the final seconds, with bug-eyed Ottawa coach Paul MacLean calling a time-out with a five-goal lead and his counterpart Michel Therrien calling him a naughty fellow. Montreal's Josh Georges then carried the puck up the ice for the final shot of the evening and made sure to blast it as hard as he could right at Ottawa's Kyle Turris.
You can bet the two teams will hear from the NHL before Tuesday's Game 4. As well, the league's head of player safety Brendan Shanahan will revisit a few of Sunday's shenanigans, such as the elbow Montreal's Rene Bourque threw at Ottawa's Cory Conacher.
Beyond all doubt, the emotional level between the Senators and Habs has been escalating period by period and needs to be kept somewhere within the rules. The dilemma is no one expected this much hostility so quickly. From a Canadiens-Boston Bruins playoff, sure. From the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, absolutely. Those are always hazardous cocktails. Ottawa and Montreal had precious little to draw from; theirs was going to be a budding conflict. Now they both have blood on their hands and it's a full-fledged frenzy.
For every reason imaginable – danger, disrespect, hilarious quotes, hellacious hits – Montreal v. Ottawa is the Slap Shot series of 2013. A little cleaner perhaps, but not much. Viewer discretion is still advised.
When the Shark bites
First, it was Roberto Luongo as the starter. Then it was Cory Schneider to the rescue. Then back to Luongo. Different goalies, similar results, which is part of the reason why the Vancouver Canucks find themselves one loss away from elimination.
Here are some more reasons why in the wake of Sunday's 5-2 thrashing by the San Jose Sharks: the Sedins, Henrik and Daniel, remain goalless and soulless; no Ryan Kesler starring for two games in succession as the Beast. (Maybe the coaching staff forgot to feed him his raw meat.) No intimidation factor, either. Not through brute strength, but through speed and skill and all the things that took Vancouver to within a win of the Stanley Cup two years ago.
The Canucks showed nothing of their strengths inside the Shark Tank. They gave two goals within nine seconds; three goals in less than two-and-a-half minutes. All of them came against Schneider, who was supposed to give Vancouver what coach Alain Vigneault had desperately wanted, "Whether you want to call (them) difference makers or heroes, somebody's got to step up and make a difference."
The call was made but no Canuck answered it. That's indicative, too, of just how well San Jose has amended its ways and become the quicker, better team, noticeably so on defence, where much of the credit has to go to Larry Robinson.
The former Stanley Cup-winning head coach joined the Sharks last summer as an associate coach and has worked the defence corps to the point where Brent Burns was moved up to the wing, playing on a line with Joe Thornton.
Against a San Jose side that plays a whole lot smarter, the Canucks' troubles have only been magnified. And if they're swept out of the playoffs then Vigneault will be gone and he won't be the only one leaving the West Coast.
Given the NHL's peculiar brand of discipline, this was as good as we were going to get: a two-game suspension for Detroit Red Wing Justin Abdelkader , who knocked Anaheim's Toni Lydman out of Game 2. Abdelkader charged then leaped into an unsuspecting Lydman, targeted the head and drew a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
It was a textbook case of what the NHL is trying to get rid of, which meant two games. The going rate for violence.