The Montreal Canadiens lost their season opener, 4-3 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, but no one was talking about the score after the game.
Everyone in the hockey world was discussing George Parros, a tough guy who suffered a scary looking head injury after falling to the ice during a fight with Colton Orr of the Leafs, and whether fighting belongs in the game of hockey.
It was not the first gruesome or devastating scene witnessed at the Bell Center. Trent McCleary was hit in the throat with a slap shot while a member of the Habs in 2000. The shot fractured his larynx and he never played hockey again, lucky just to be alive. Donald Audette had his wrist sliced by a skate blade and Saku Koivu received a nasty high stick that nearly cost him an eye. Also, in the 2002 playoffs, Richard Zednik was knocked out cold by a viscous elbow from Boston Bruins defenseman Kyle McLaren.
More recently, Canadiens prospect Blake Geoffrion had his career ended by a hard check in an American Hockey League game in Montreal. The force of the hit caused both players to leave the ice, and Geoffrion was struck in the head by a skate. The force of the blow caused a skull fracture and concussion and would put a stop to Geoffrion’s dream of playing in the NHL again one day.
We all remember when Max Pacioretty was driven into the stanchion by Zdeno Chara, resulting in a fractured vertebrae and a concussion, and leaving him lifeless on the ice for several minutes before being taken away on a stretcher.
During the first game of last year’s playoffs, Lars Eller suffered a severe concussion when he was crushed by Eric Gryba of the Ottawa Senators. Eller missed the rest of the Canadiens short post season, and made his regular season return in the loss to the Maple Leafs. Eller exited his last game at the Bell Centre on a stretcher, and left this one as the second star of the game.
It was a dominant return for Eller, though not much attention was paid to him due to the horrific injury to Parros. Lars factored in on all three Canadiens goals, finishing the game with two goals and an assist.
Eller arrived in Montreal in 2010, in a trade that sent goaltender Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues. He had a great breakout season during the lockout shortened year of 2013, scoring 30 points in 46 games. He was a healthy scratch in the second game of the season, but worked his way back into the lineup quickly, and became an excellent two way center for the Habs. His first great season ended abruptly with the concussion, and left us wondering what kind of player he would be when he came back.
Eller did not waste any time getting on the score sheet. He was the recipient of a heads up pass from Raphael Diaz, the same player who fed him the puck seconds before he was laid out by Gryba, and made no mistake finding the back of the net.
If Eller was timid at all about being back on the ice where he received his nasty injury, witnessing a similar incident was only going to make matters worse. With the Canadiens down 4-2 in the third, and most players reeling from the sight of their new enforcer being reduced to rubble on the ice, it was Eller who took the lead in a potential comeback.
While shorthanded Eller forced a turnover in the Canadiens zone, and rushed the length of the ice, stuffed the puck behind Reimer, and gave the Habs new life with 2:22 remaining in the game.
The comeback ended there, and though the Canadiens lost the game, Eller won a major battle just by being productive again. He played in all situations, getting a chance on the power play, being counted on while killing penalties, and was the extra attacker as the Habs swarmed the Leafs end in search of an equalizer.
Lars played 16:20, had six shots on net, created plenty of offense all night with his linemates Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, and was without a doubt the Canadiens best player.
The night was overshadowed by a frightening incident, but it was also a night of Eller overcoming his own frightening incident.
Now we hope Parros gets an opportunity for a successful return in the near future as well.