The rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs has been on simmer for a while.
Tom Kostopoulos, a utility forward for the Habs moved the dial to boil, Saturday night.
The result was a 6-3 whipping inflicted by the Maple Leafs in a game that turned seven minutes in when Kostopoulos, a hardworking, anonymous forward, unaccountably rammed Leafs defenceman Mike Van Ryn into the boards from behind.
“He’s got a concussion, a broken nose and a broken hand,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “He probably will be out somewhere around a month. Every bad thing that could happen happened on that play.”
For everyone, the game - uneventful up to that moment - was jolted out of its orbit.
“We came out with an edge but when you see something like that to one of your best D, you really want to make them pay,” said Leafs forward Matt Stajan. “It was a dirty hit and it’s something that can’t happen in the game. Luckily we made them pay.”
By scoring. Niklas Hagman, sensational on the night, tapped in a power play goal from Mikhail Grabovski
to get the Leafs up and running on the ensuing power play.
Hagman scored twice. Grabovski added his team leading seventh. Nik Antropov, Pavel Kubina and Alexei Ponikarovsky scored as the Leafs reeled off three straight goals for the win.
The Leafs bettered the Habs, playing their second game in as many nights, by every imaginable measure.
They outshot them 41-20. They outscored them 3-2 on the power play and 3-1 when playing five on five. Not bad for a Leafs team that hadn’t won in three straight contests.
The Leafs were 5-5-4 going into the game, the Canadiens 8-1-2.
Kostopoulos agreed the hit on Van Ryn supercharged the emotional tenor of the game.
“No one wants to see that. Our team gets down and they’re on a five-minute power play. Our key guys can’t get out on the ice. It definitely sapped a lot out of our team.”
The Mississauga native, who has a nodding acquaintance with Van Ryn, said he didn’t mean to hurt the Leafs defenceman.
“I was just trying to get in there, get the hit and get the puck. I didn’t anticipate him turning and I couldn’t stop myself. I hope he’s all right.”
But Leafs coach Ron Wilson, who saw the same phenomena with his own player, Ryan Hollweg, doesn’t buy the argument that player who was hit created the situation by turning away from the checker.
“It’s your responsibility coming in to hit to see if the person is vulnerable,” he said.
A few minutes after the play, Andrei Kostitsyn slid his stick under Luke Schenn
’s skates, sending the Leafs prized rookie into the end boards as he raced back to touch the puck for an icing.
“When they got Luke on that one icing, that fired our team up more than anything,” said Wilson. “Fortunately Luke didn’t get hurt but if he did, that would have been ugly.”
Hagman too was sent into the boards headfirst. The hits went a long way towards an ugly atmosphere.
Hagman, a marvelously truculent Finn, loved it.
“That’s the way it should be. We want to beat them. We’re not going to give an inch and neither are they.”
Van Ryn’s injury, though needless, does not hit the club where it is thinnest. The London native has averaged 21 minutes a night and frequently worked the point on the power play.
The Leafs have three reserves chafing to play, Jonas Frogren, Anton Stralman and Ian White, who went from the press box for the first 11 games of the year to the point on the power play against the Canadiens.