MONTREAL - With all the fights, black eyes and even a player jumping off the bench to join a melee this week, it seems that the NHL has gone back in time to the 1970s.
Old time hockey indeed.
"It looked like 'Slap Shot' out there," Toronto Maple Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur said Saturday of watching highlights from a brawl-filled game the night before between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders.
That game produced 346 penalty minutes, including 15 fighting majors and 10 ejections, to easily top the mere 192 penalty minutes handed out in the Montreal Canadiens' fightfest with the Boston Bruins only two days earlier. A week earlier, the Bruins got into three fights in the opening four seconds of a game against the Dallas Stars.
So is all this brawling a trend? Is the golden age of the goon about to return? Or is it just a case of a few games getting out of hand?
According to players from the Leafs and the Canadiens, it's all a phase, and mass brawls are not likely to become the rule in NHL games.
"This week's been a little rough, it might be a full moon or something, but I'm sure the league's going to put their foot down and do something about it," said Leafs goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere. "These things are going to happen every once in a while. It's not the first time and it's not the last."
"Those days are long gone," added Montreal winger Travis Moen. "I think that's a good thing.
"Fighting's part of hockey and the fans love it, but the days of bench brawls and that, I think it's gone. It's just a coincidence that it happened a couple of games in a row."
Moen was in the thick of it as the Bruins played the intimidation card in their 8-6 victory at home Wednesday night, ending a string of three losses this season to their closest Northeast Division rivals. One brawl saw goaltenders Carey Price and Tim Thomas square off, although no damage was done.
The lowly Islanders clearly had revenge in mind for incidents in a 3-0 loss in Pittsburgh nine days earlier, when the Penguins' Brent Johnson flattened Rick DiPietro with one punch in a much nastier goalie fight that left the Isles' oft-inured netminder out with a broken cheek. In that same game, Pittsburgh's Max Talbot inflicted a concussion on Blake Comeau with what New York considered a blindside hit.
The rematch—a 9-3 Islanders win—got ugly in the second period when New York's Matt Martin jumped Talbot and started throwing punches to kick off a brawl. In the third, Trevor Gillies skated across the ice to elbow Eric Tangredi's head into the glass and started beating on him to touch off another donnybrook.
That one saw the Islanders' Michael Haley, called up that day from the minors, get into a fight at one end, then skate down the ice to take on Johnson. Penguins enforcer Eric Godard jumped off the bench to defend his goalie and will be suspended for his trouble.
"The Gillies hit started it," said McArthur. "It looked like the guy (Tangredi) separated a shoulder on the way down and he just started punching him.
"I mean, there's no question that guy's out of control. Let's be honest. He's revved up to go every night and they had some bad blood from the game before with the DiPietro fight and stuff's going to happen. That young guy (Haley) got called up and he had his fight and then went down to fight the goalie. It's going to get ugly after that. Godard's got a job to do. I don't really blame him for coming off the bench. You're trying to protect your goaltender there. It was just out of control."
Giguere certainly hopes goaltender fights don't become routine. He said he had one when he was in the minors and it didn't go well.
"I don't think it's in a goalie's best interest to get into fights, especially when you see what happened to DiPietro," he said. "And with the equipment we wear, its not easy to fight."
For coaches Ron Wilson and Jacques Martin, the brawling stemmed from the emotion of playoff races and the heightened intensity of the games, and also from players wanting to battle hard to show what they can do before the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
"There's been a lot of this stuff happening right now and it's only because one, we're getting closer to the trade deadline, and two, the intensity ratchets up right now because of the playoff races," said Wilson. "So I think it's just an anomaly and you just move on."
Martin said emotion is a factor as the playoff races heat up. He pointed to Boston's let down after their victory over Montreal when they were zapped 6-1 Friday night by Detroit, which was in a sour mood after a loss to Nashville.
None of it fazes Montreal captain Brian Gionta.
"At this time of year there's a lot of big points at stake and everybody's fighting for those last few playoff spots and that's why you see emotions spilling over," he said. "It's a good thing in the fact that guys are emotionally attached and they want to win. That competitive nature's going to make the game better."