TORONTO - Mississauga native John Tavares says there’s nothing wrong with a good hockey fight if it clears the air.
A brawl erupted between bitter rivals New Jersey and the New York Rangers Monday night, right off the opening puck drop.
The Devils, clearly trying to make a statement to their Atlantic Division foe, iced a starting five that included Eric Boulton, Cam Janssen and Ryan Carter, who entered the game with three goals, four assists and 252 penalty minutes between them. The Rangers countered with tough guys Mike Rupp, Brandon Prust and Stu Bickel.
As soon as the puck dropped, the six players dropped their gloves and went at it. Bickel traded blows with Carter while Prust took on Janssen and Rupp squared off against Boulton. All six players got five-minute majors and Carter needed stitches to stop the bleeding.
The Rangers ended up doubling up the Devils 4-2.
“I can understand both those teams, playing against them a lot and being in the New York area and what those rivalries are like,” Tavares said on Tuesday morning at the Air Canada Centre as the New York Islanders prepared to take on the Maple Leafs. “That stuff really doesn’t happen very often, you don’t see that so much anymore when you see a few fights right off the draw like that. It really brings the intensity and passion to the game, and it’s almost better to kind of get it out of the way right of the bat and then play the game.”
Tavares brings his team-leading 31 goals and 70 points into the ACC as the Islanders (29-32-11) look to kick a Leafs team that is already down. Toronto was thoroughly beaten up – in every sense of the term – by the Boston Bruins on Monday night and will be looking to salvage some modicum of pride on Tuesday night.
But it won’t be easy. The Leafs come into the game licking some very deep wounds. They didn’t go for their usual morning skate, nor were any players available to media. And of all the wounds, Mike Komisarek’s might be the deepest.
During the Boston game, Komisarek, trying to breathe some life into his team after it quickly went into a 4-0 hole, dropped the gloves with Bruins bruiser Milan Lucic and got the stuffing knocked out of him. The Leafs then limped to an 8-0 loss, emphatically putting another dent in their already fragile playoff hopes.
The good feelings from back-to-back wins against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators will certainly have evaporated after the beatdown in Boston, but both Tavares and North York’s Matt Moulson, with 30 goals on the season, said they will not be taking Toronto (32-33-8) lightly.
“We’ll just try and come into tonight and jump on them early,” Tavares said. “They had a tough one last night, so I’m sure they’ll try respond tonight. It will be a tough game.”
“I think they’ll come out with a lot of energy,” Moulson said of the Leafs. “It’s their home rink and they’re going to come out with a spark and spunk, and we’ll have to be ready for that.”
Both teams are on the outside looking in; Toronto sitting 12th in the East and eight points behind Washington for the final playoff berth while the Islanders occupy the 14th spot.
How the Maple Leafs, which have won all three games against the Islanders this season, respond on Tuesday night at the ACC to their humiliation in Boston will speak volumes about what kind of leadership they have in their room.