MONTREAL - Coach Jacques Martin says the Montreal Canadiens' fight-filled 8-6 loss to the Boston Bruins was due to defensive errors rather than the widely held belief that the team needs an enforcer.
The Canadiens were pummelled in the brawls and on the scoresheet Wednesday night as the Bruins flexed their muscles to pull off their first win in four meetings with Montreal this season.
That had many fans and commentators suggesting the NHL club—which relies on speed and tight defensive play—is too small and not tough enough to beat bigger, physical teams like Boston or the Philadelphia Flyers when it matters.
''I think we have some grit and we showed it last year at playoff time,'' Martin said Thursday. ''We played some pretty physical teams in the (Washington) Capitals and Pittsburgh (Penguins) and came out on top.
''I don't think it deters our players. I don't think it has to do with the size of players, it's about their character and determination.''
Still, the Canadiens called up Ryan White from AHL Hamilton on Thursday ahead of a home game against the New York Islanders. The stocky, checking centre is hardly an enforcer but he doesn't mind dropping the gloves.
The Canadiens haven't had a designated fighter since dropping Georges Laraque midway through the 2009-2010 season. The club felt that Laraque, who rarely fought despite his credentials as a top pugilist, had become a distraction.
Instead, they opted to try to win through quick puck movement, strong positional play and a consistent power play, which was good enough to get them to the NHL Eastern Conference final last season, where they lost in five games to the Flyers.
The Canadiens had the edge in their first three meetings with the Bruins this season, but found them in a surly mood in the fourth encounter.
At 12:36 of a second period in which eight goals were scored, Brad Marchand laid a nasty hit on James Wisniewski after a whistle. Montreal's diminutive captain Brian Gionta rushed in and a melee was on that featured Boston's Tim Thomas skating down the ice to take on Montreal's Carey Price. That one ended with both goalies smiling after Thomas fell during a scuffle that neither goalie looked keen to take any further.
Another skirmish at 17:06 of the third saw Boston's Milan Lucic and Montreal's P.K. Subban sent off with misconducts and, in a side fight, Montreal's Benoit Pouliot floored Boston centre David Krejci with one punch, but then held off throwing any more.
With less than a minute to play and with the score at 8-5, Boston coach Claude Julien put his tough guys on the ice and they mostly did not let up as a mass brawl erupted, with Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton pounding on defenceman Roman Hamrlik, Johnny Boychuk hammering Jaroslav Spacek and Gregory Campbell repeatedly nailing Tom Pyatt.
One of Campbell's elbow pads slipped down so it appeared he was punching Pyatt with the pad, which likely was one reason the Montreal winger emerged with a black eye and a seven-stitch cut on his face.
Reports on Thursday said that the NHL disciplinarian, Campbell's father Colin, did not see any cause for any fines or suspensions.
''I didn't really notice it,'' said Pyatt. ''It was a tough game, old-time hockey.
''There was a minute left and it was just the type of game where there was a lot of fighting and emotion.''
Hamrlik also had bumps and red scratches on his face.
''Of course, I got the toughest guy out there, Thornton, and I just tried to hold him off,'' Hamrlik said with a grin.
He referred any questions on whether the Canadiens need an enforcer to general manager Pierre Gauthier.
''He's here to make the moves, he knows what he's doing,'' Hamrlik said. ''If he wants to bring in a tough guy, that's fine with us, but we're here to play hockey. We did what we had to do.''
''It was old time hockey and it was kind of bush, too,'' added Pouliot. ''But Boston's that kind of team.
''They bring their toughness out there. For us, we don't really have the big boys to scare them a bit, but we still scored a lot of goals. The power play was great. We got a lot of positives. We backed up each other and that was good.''
The Canadiens, who went into the game 0-for-22 with the man advantage in their previous five games, scored four times on 10 opportunities. Wisniewski said a strong power play is the best deterrent to teams that want to goon it up.
''If teams are going to do that then our power play has to step up and make them hurt that way,'' he said. ''That's the wayyou can beat teams with that style of play—every time they take a penalty, score a power-play goal.
''Guys stuck up for each other. We were a little outmatched. They might be the toughest team in the league and we don't have a lot of guys who have that element in their game, but they stepped up to the plate and they showed their character.''