On a night when the Canadiens chose to honour a great rivalry, the worst of the current Maple Leafs reared its ugly face.
As part of the Canadiens centennial celebrations, five former Maple Leafs were brought out and celebrated on a red carpet walk, in a tribute to Original Six rivals. Wendel Clark, Borje Salming, Felix Potvin, Darryl Sittler and goaltending great Johnny Bower all received a nice hand from the fans in attendance.
The classy and respectful notions of the evening ended at the national anthem, apparently.
Over the past few seasons, I've often termed games between these clubs as having a Twilight Zone tendency. In short, strange things seem to happen between these two clubs, that bare little resemblance or precedence to reality. Often, it results from poor officiating, as though the games are so intense, that the four on ice zebras become caught up in the moment, at times endlessly distracted, and let the game get out of their control.
Last night's contest fit the template of past episodes. Add in some aple Leaf frustration, and you get quite the stew.
A pair of rookie NHL officials were handed last night's game. Chris Ciamaga and Tim Peel were out of their element, and it looked it big time.
There is a contrary cliche - "When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping."
It surely applied to Ciamaga and Peel last night. When managing the game's emotions, they panicked and literally called 911 in order to minimize what was nothing more than a exaggerated case of verbal diarrhea between a pair of 84's - Mikhail Grabovski and Guillaume Latendresse at the end of the first period. The sentences were akin to firing squads for smoking pot and the officials hammer did little to avert more second period nonsense.
Only time will tell, but it looked to me as if this game was the first true representation of the Brian Burke stamped Maple Leafs. The day prior, Burke acquired Anaheim Ducks winger and tough guy Brad May, in his first official trade as Leafs GM. Either Burke believes May has something to add to the Leafs, or the enforcer has one awesome looking wife. This marks Burke's third acquisition of May, who he also brought to Vancouver before trading for him in Anaheim.
Evidentally, Burke wants to make the Leafs a tougher team to play against, which is all good and fine when trying to attach an identity to a doormat hockey club.
The new Burke memo that this sends is, you may beat the Leafs, but you will pay a price.
Last night, the Canadiens happily paid the cost, while routing the Leafs.
Memo to Burke: First, make your team good, then make it tough. Growing balls when down by three or four goals, doesn't amount to much resistance or resilience. Hating to lose might be a good characteristic to instill into a directionless group of players, but without the talent to back it up, all that so called toughness just become side show antics.
Burke's no stranger to improving the hockey clubs that he runs. He's also quite referenced for the sideshows that follows him. Expect Todd Bertuzzi to be Burke's next pickup.
Before the game began, there was talk of the May effect on the Leafs, and Burke's message to the club was evident in how Toronto approached playing the Habs as the game went on.
With the game five minutes old, the Canadiens built on 2-0 lead on goals by Sergei Kostitsyn and Maxim Lapierre. Penalties called disrupted the game's flow, and the Leafs were back in it, replying two minutes later on a Tomas Kaberle screen shot. The remainder of the first frame produced the game's best back and forth hockey. Nearing the term of the first period, Latendresse put the Habs up 3-1, and that was when things began to get Twilight Zone - ish.
Guillaume and Grabovski were handed ten minute misconducts for nothing more than extended yapping and jawing.
A separate incident at the period's end involving the Canadiens Mike Komisarek and the Leafs Andre Deveaux gave the Habs a powerplay to begin the second period. Deveaux was somehow assessed two roughing minors, while Komisarek earned just one.
As an aside, few Canadiens fans might know, Deveaux was once property of the Canadiens, having been a 2002, sixth round (182 overall) draft pick of the Habs. Deveaux was never signed by the Canadiens, or assigned to any minor league affiliate.
The second period was the Twilight Zone's main course. As Montreal built up a 5-1 lead, officials handed out no less than 14 penalties - seven per side.
Calls seemed to be infraction worthy until the 9:48 mark, when reknowed pacifists Ian White and Tomas Plekanec were each handed ten minute misconducts for what amounted to nothing more than civil disobedience.
At this point, the officials had officially lost all control of the game.
Fifty six seconds later, the Leafs Jamal Mayers found the always willing Habs punchbag Tom Kostopoulos raring to go, in an uneven tilt. One puck drop later, May found a willing Francis Bouillon to trade smacks with. Bouillon, at 5' 9", fared much better, but by this time, the Leafs pugiliastic nonsenses had reached parody proportions.
Whatever they were trying to prove, was lost to all but themselves. To add insult to insult, the Canadiens bench was then handed a minor for abuse of game officials. Coach Carbonneau invariably spewed his venom at this point. What took him so long?
The best, or worst, was yet to come.
Towards the end of the third period, lippy little blowhard Mikhail Grabovski was still at it, now indulged in a yapfest with Belarusian compatriot Sergei Kostitsyn. It was funny to watch. Evidentally, the former Canadien has left some issues unsettled since leaving Montreal, where he wasn't terribly well liked by team mates.
Unfortunately, officials kept the bout from happening. Too bad, because many would have cherished seeing Kostitsyn take a round out of Grabovski. Instead, he became a handful for the linesman who had tied him up. After being wrestled to the ice, Grabovski returned to his feet and gave the linesman a shove.
Grabovski has since received a three game suspension for the incident.