TORONTO - With all the buzz surrounding Zdeno Chara’s crushing hit on Max Pacioretty, it’s easy to forget the Maple Leafs have an important hockey game Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Leafs (29-28-10) desperately need a victory over the Flyers (41-19-6) at the Air Canada Centre if they want to keep their drive for the playoffs alive, but media and players alike couldn’t stop talking about the Tuesday night incident in Montreal that sent the Canadiens forward to hospital with a cracked vertebra after he had is head slammed into the glass partition by the 6-foot-9 Chara.
The hit, for which the Bruins captain, Chara, was ejected from the game but not fined or suspended, has sparked outrage around the country and has even launched a criminal investigation by Montreal police.
Police confirmed on Thursday that they have opened an investigation at the urging of Quebec’s director of criminal and penal prosecutions, Louis Dionne.
Air Canada, a major sponsor of the NHL, has also threatened to pull its sponsorship of the league if something isn’t done to eliminate head hits from the game.
QMI Agency reported that Air Canada has sent a letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman saying it does not want to be associated “with sports events which could lead to serious and irresponsible accidents; action must be taken by the NHL before we are encountered with a fatality.”
Pacioretty remains in hospital recovering from a severe concussion and a fractured vertebra.
“I’m concerned about winning hockey games and getting to the playoffs. Everything outside the rink our management and GM can handle,” Leafs defenceman Mike Komisarek said after the Leafs' morning skate when asked about his reaction to Air Canada’s statement. “It’s tough to see, it’s a physical and violent game. Injuries are part of what we do, but you never like to see a fellow competitor go down like that and get carried off on a stretcher.
“It goes back to the league, (Chara) got thrown out of the game. He served his time during the game, he sat out and they lost. The league looked at it and didn’t think there were any fines or any other disciplinary action for Chara. Beyond that, it’s really tough to say,” Komisarek added when asked about the criminal investigation.
“I see both sides of it. I mean the guy broke his neck and there’s no punishment … I mean, I don’t know what that says,” forward Clarke MacArthur said. “I feel bad for the guy, he gets a massive concussion and a broken neck and there’s absolutely no suspension at all. That’s a tough call. I mean, I watched it again in slow-mo and I think someone else said it, you know where the partition is there in the boards and that’s just a tough play.”
While everyone was pre-occupied with the hit, the Leafs will have to quickly focus on the task at hand if they want to climb from 10th spot into the eighth and final playoff slot in the Eastern Conference. Toronto, which trails eighth-place Buffalo by four points, would do well to steal another game away from Philly before taking on the Sabres at home on Saturday night.
“It doesn’t matter how they played last week,” defenceman Luke Schenn said regarding Philadelphia’s recent 7-0 loss to the New York Rangers and also a 3-2 loss to the Leafs. “They played a good game against Edmonton their last game and I’m sure they’ve got their confidence back ... We expect them to come out hard tonight, and, obviously, they probably remember that we snuck two points away from them in Philadelphia.”
Added MacArthur: “This is the biggest (game of the season). To win tonight and set us up for the Buffalo game, that’s what’s on our agenda. We have to lay it on the line and find a way to get a win.”
Workhorse James Reimer will be manning the Leafs’ net once again.