HAMILTON, Ont. - The Hamilton Bulldogs saw it as standing up for their teammates. The Toronto Marlies saw it as instigator penalties that went uncalled.
One thing was clear, however. Four fights in the second period of American Hockey League action on Sunday night were the turning point in a 5-1 win for Hamilton.
The game was the eighth of 12 meetings between the Bulldogs (39-14-8) and Marlies (24-28-10) this season, and the animosity between the teams was evident.
The constant fighting even got in the way of some offence. Toronto's Kyle Calder thought he scored midway through the second period, but the play was blown dead just before the puck crossed the line because a fight had started back near centre ice.
Marlies coach Dallas Eakins blamed his team's defeat on referee Chris Ciamaga.
"Horrible refereeing," he said. "It was an excellent hockey game, and then in a six minute span, we suddenly don't understand what instigator penalties are and we don't know what goals are when whistles go.
"I'm going to have to call the league and get a refresher course on the rule book. I clearly do not understand the game after 24 years of pro hockey."
But Hamilton coach Guy Boucher saw the scraps in a more favourable light.
"It kept the game neutral," he said. "The guys in those fights all did it for a reason at the right times. They happened because guys were sticking out for each other."
While the scraps were hotly contested, it was Hamilton that had the upper hand on the score sheet.
After Tim Brent gave Toronto a 1-0 lead through the first period, Ben Maxwell tied the game early in the second when he one-timed a rebound over goalie Joey MacDonald on the power play.
Mike Glumac and P.K. Subban scored goals less than two minutes apart midway through the second period to give the Bulldogs a comfortable lead, while David Desharnais scored Hamilton's fourth goal a minute into the third period by crashing the net with the puck.
Ryan White rounded out the scoring with a short-handed empty-netter after MacDonald was pulled with over five minutes remaining in a desperate attempt to generate scoring chances.
"I was trying to score a goal. We had a power play and we were down three," said Eakins. "You can never give up in this game."
The physical game may set a tone for the rematch, when the Marlies visit the Bulldogs again on March 9.
"Being a hockey player, but also being a fan, I enjoy playing against 1/8Toronto 3/8. Sometimes you have teams where maybe it's not as fun or there's not as much rivalry," said Hamilton defenceman P.K. Subban. "But there's a lot of emotion, and that's good."
Notes: Hamilton was without defenceman Mathieu Carle, who has been injured since Jan. 13, and forward Tom Pyatt, who was called up by the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday morning. ... Toronto's Keith Aulie did not dress as he is out for the season with a shoulder injury. ... Five Hamilton players had a two-point night: Desharnais, Subban, Mike Glumac, Brock Trotter and Andre Benoit. ... The Marlies are 3-5 against the Bulldogs this season. ... The Bulldogs lead the Western Conference with 86 points, while the Marlies are sixth in North Division with 58 points.