It was midway through warmup and already superpest Sean Avery was stirring up the, well, you know.
The one-time plaything of Canadian actress Elisha Cuthbert couldn't wait to get under the skin of the host Maple Leafs and quickly took matters into his own ornery hands.
First came a shot at diminutive Jason Blake, followed by a threatening waggle of the stick at the Leafs' Darcy Tucker. Tucker waved his lumber back at Avery, the two men started jawing at each other, and it was game on.
"He has no sense of class," an irritated Tucker said after the Leafs' 3-2 shootout loss to Avery's New York Rangers last night during the annual Hall of Fame game at the Air Canada Centre. "What goes around, comes around in this game.
"Through the entire warmup, he would not stop yapping. He comes in there and gets in my face."
Informed that Tucker had called him classless, Avery replied: "I've been called that before and I'll be called that again."
Avery was relatively reserved in his comments -- for Avery, that is. He was, for the most part, muzzled by Rangers management, partially in fear of turning Hall of Fame weekend into a circus.
Coincidentally, during warmup prior to a game at Madison Square Garden a year ago, Avery allegedly said Tucker belonged in the circus, which just happened to be in town at the time.
PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 1
As for last night, Tucker and Avery carried their pre-game feud into the game by taking unsportsmanlike minor penalties midway through the first period. Then, the moment they left the box, the gloves dropped and the punches flew, much to the glee of the season-high 19,503 in attendance.
While the game featured a two-goal performance from Toronto's Alexei Ponikarovsky, it was the always pesky Avery who stole the spotlight yet again.
Rubbing salt into the wounds of Tucker and his teammates, Avery went on to add a goal and an assist in regulation, setting the stage for linemate Brendan Shanahan's clinching goal in the shootout.
Told Tucker called Avery "classless," Shanahan laughed.
"That's funny because I just compared them to each other. I'm not a fan of all the talk but in the end they're both passionate players," Shanahan said.
"Everybody knows (Avery's) antics and that he has the ability to get under people's skin but I remember when I was in Detroit and when we played and them, how good he is as a player. These two guys go at each other pretty good. They're a lot alike."
Avery recently got into a similar pre-game skirmish with the New Jersey Devils' David Clarkson, who was irked at Avery's goading of goalie Martin Brodeur during warm-up stretching.
"There's a line you don't cross and sometimes he touches the line," Rangers coach Tom Renney said.
With the Rangers up 2-0 and controlling the play in the second period, Scott Gomez took a reaction penalty when Vesa Toskala pushed him on the back of the helmet as he lay in the crease. Gomez took a slap at him, drawing a roughing penalty and Ponikarovsky scored just as he was stepping from the penalty box. Two minutes later the game was tied.
Sean Avery of the Rangers and Darcy Tucker ignited a near brawl before the game started.
The Maple Leafs may have hit some potholes coming out of the gate this season but it hardly ever shows at the rink on game night. Attendance last night was 19,503, a season high.
The Rangers started backup Stephen Valiquette in goal. It was the Etobicoke native's first start of the season and 13th NHL start in a career that covers pro stops in 14 cities. The 30-year-old has played in Dayton, Lowell, Hampton, Trenton, Providence, Springfield, Bridgeport, 35 games with the Toronto Roadrunners, Hartford, and Yaroslavl Locomotiv in Russia. He has played six games each with the Isles and Rangers and one with the Oilers.
Jaromir Jagr fanned on a cross-ice pass at his own blue line on a second period power play, letting Boyd Devereaux break in alone.