Canadiens' Eller taken off ice after injury

Friday, 05.03.2013 / 12:03 AM
Arpon Basu  - Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens lost far more than their first playoff game Thursday night. They lost one of their best forwards as well.

Center Lars Eller left the ice on a stretcher at 13:28 of the second period after taking a hit from Ottawa Senators defenseman Eric Gryba in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

Eller was taking a pass coming from behind him by defenseman Raphael Diaz as he was exiting his zone when Gryba hit Eller, sending him face first on to the ice. A significant pool of blood formed on the ice as Eller lay face down for several minutes.

Eller eventually tried to get up on his own, but Canadiens medical personnel prevented from doing so until he could be placed onto a stretcher. The Canadiens said after the game that Eller got a concussion on the play with loss of consciousness as well as facial fractures and loss of teeth. He was to stay in hospital overnight for observation.

Diaz was despondent answering reporters' questions after the game, lamenting ever having made that pass and putting Eller in a vulnerable position.

"I saw him open and wanted to make a quick pass to him so we can go to the rush," Diaz said. "I didn't see the guy."

Gryba expressed remorse over the result of the hit, but he maintained he did nothing wrong and was not trying in any way to hurt Eller.

"I stepped up to make a hit," he said. "I kept my shoulder down. He received the puck by the time I hit him. I saw the replay. My elbow was down and there was no intent to hurt him whatsoever and I hope that he's OK.

"I'm not out here to hurt anybody and it's never good to seeing anything like that. I hope he makes a full and speedy recovery."

The NHL announced after the game that Gryba will have a hearing on the incident Friday.

Gryba was asked if the hit was in retaliation of a big body check Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban laid on Senators forward Chris Neil in the first period. He said no and suggested that if the same situation presented itself again, he wouldn't do anything differently.

"I'm going to play the same way and not change a thing," Gryba said. "There was no intent to go out there and find a big hit. If the opportunity presents itself, I'm going to finish my check and if it doesn't, then I'm not."

Senators coach Paul MacLean, who played 719 games in the NHL, said that Eller was in a dangerous area of the ice and that Diaz never should have given him the puck there.

"If I'm Eller, I'm really mad at player 61 [Diaz], whoever he is, because he passed me the puck in the middle of the rink when I wasn't looking, and that's always been a dangerous place," MacLean said. "Ever since I've been playing this game, that's a dangerous place to be. Bad things happen."

MacLean then named some of the players through history who had made a name for themselves laying hits just like Gryba's, listing Scott Stevens, Doug Harvey, Barclay Plager and Gord Kluzak.

"That play's been there since this game has been around," MacLean said. "I remember guys telling me, 'Don't go through there if you're not looking.'

"It was a hockey play that went bad for Eller. Our player hit him, but 61's the guy to blame."

Canadiens coach Michel Therrien wouldn't discuss the legality of the play afterwards, citing the possibility the League would look at the hit in choosing not to comment. His anger on the bench was clearly visible in the immediate aftermath of the incident, but he still managed to calm down and huddle his team around the bench in an attempt to do the same for them.

"He just wanted to keep us focused and keep us worrying about the right things and the task at hand," said forward Ryan White, who just completed a five-game suspension for delivering a somewhat similar hit on Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kent Huskins. "You can let your emotions run wild there and start worrying about things you don't need to be worrying about. He just kept us in check."

Losing Eller is a major blow to the Canadiens chances of winning the series after a 4-2 loss in Game 1. Eller may be labeled as Montreal's third-line center, but he was tied for the team lead in scoring in April with 13 points in 14 games and his play with rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher was something that could have tilted the balance of the series in Montreal's favor.

Gallagher was also on the ice in November with the American Hockey League's Hamilton Bulldogs when teammate Blake Geoffrion took a hit from Jean-Philippe Côté that left him with a depressed skull fracture he still hasn't recovered from.

"Obviously seeing something like that puts things in perspective," Gallagher said, practically whispering. "It's scary. It's not something you want to see."

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