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Tension mounts between Habs, Sens after Eller injury

by Arpon Basu

BROSSARD, Quebec -- The Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators didn't have a long-standing rivalry entering their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

They do now.

The combination of the injury suffered by Canadiens center Lars Eller on Thursday during a 4-2 victory by the Senators in Game 1 at Bell Centre, as well as the postgame comments made by Ottawa coach Paul MacLean, left the Canadiens fuming Friday, hours before Game 2 at Bell Centre (7 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS, CNBC).

Eller left the ice on a stretcher at 13:28 of the second period after taking a hit in the neutral zone from Ottawa Senators defenseman Eric Gryba. Eller was taking a pass from teammate Raphael Diaz that was a bit behind Eller as he exited the Montreal zone. At that point, Gryba hit Eller, sending the Canadiens forward face-first to the ice.

Eller, according to the team, suffered a concussion, as well as facial injuries and a loss of several teeth. He spent Thursday night in the hospital and was released Friday morning.

Gryba was given a five-minute major for interference as well as a game misconduct. He was suspended for two games by the NHL Department of Player Safety on Friday.

Friday morning, during the Canadiens' preparations for Game 2 at their training facility, the emotions from the previous night remained raw.

"It hurts. It hurts so much," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "We care about our players. It really hurts to see Lars, he's a good kid. We all love him, he's a good person. He's a kid that improved all year long and became an important player for this hockey team. When you see a great kid like that laying on the ice, I was having a hard time to see what's going on."

Therrien and Canadiens forward Brandon Prust were angered by the comments made by MacLean after the game, where he referred to Diaz by his jersey number, No. 61, and blamed the pass by Diaz for what happened to Eller.

"It was a hockey play that went bad for Eller," MacLean said Thursday in his postgame press conference. "Our player hit him, but 61's the guy to blame."

MacLean also mentioned several players from the past who made a living making hits like Gryba's on Thursday, saying, "That play's been there since this game has been around."

Therrien began his Friday morning press conference by essentially ignoring the first question asked of him, deciding instead to respond to MacLean's comments.

"When he compared that to a hockey hit, the [comparison] he made was from the '70s, '80s and '90s," Therrien said. "This is why we've got new rules, to avoid those hits. When a player is vulnerable, this is why we've got rules. That was a lack of respect to Lars Eller. A lack of respect to his family. And I'm never going to accept that. Never."

Prust was considerably more candid in his remarks regarding MacLean's comments.

"He's already shown enough disrespect," Prust said. "We don't really care about what that bug-eyed, fat walrus has to say."

MacLean, speaking to reporters at the Bell Centre moments after Prust's comments were being broadcast everywhere via social media, defended his stance.

"Everyone was blaming my player, all I did was point out what happened," MacLean told reporters. "I feel bad the kid got hurt."

Prust also spoke about the need for the Canadiens to remain focused on winning Game 2 and winning the series, and not about what happened to Eller or the potential to exact some revenge.

But later, his stance changed.

"I hope the League makes the right decision," Prust said. "Actually, you know what? I hope [Gryba] doesn't even get suspended."

The rivalry, it's safe to say, is on.

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