MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens are down a game and a key player early in their series with the Ottawa Senators.
Center Lars Eller suffered a concussion and facial fractures after taking a big hit from Ottawa defenseman Eric Gryba in the second period of the Senators’ 4-2 victory in Game 1 of their playoff series Thursday night.
Eller, who was taken off on a stretcher with a pool of blood on the ice, was spending the night in a hospital, the team said.
The hit came as Eller took a pass up the middle from Montreal defenseman Raphael Diaz.
“It’s tough seeing a guy laying in a heap with blood coming out,” Canadiens center Ryan White said. “You never want to see that.”
Gryba was handed a five-minute major for interference and a game misconduct.
“I can’t make any comment,” Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. “We all saw the hit. I’m sure the league is going to review it.”
While their coach remained tight-lipped, Canadiens players didn’t hide their feelings.
“I’m not sure where the contact was, but obviously it wasn’t a clean play. It’s something you’ve got to take out [of the game],” winger Rene Bourque said.
Replays showed Gryba making contact with Eller’s head and body almost simultaneously.
“For me it looked it like it was right to the head. The league will look at it and take care of it,” rookie Montreal winger Brendan Gallagher said. “It’s tough to see your teammate down, tough to see him hurt. You just want to pick him up the best you can.”
Gryba said he saw the replay and maintained that the hit was clean.
“I stepped up to make a hit. I kept my shoulder down. He received the puck by the time I hit him,” the 6-foot-4, 222-pound Gryba said. “My elbow was down, and there was no intent to hurt him whatsoever, and I hope that he’s OK.
“I’m not out here to hurt anybody, and it’s never good seeing anything like that. I hope he makes a full and speedy recovery.”
Senators coach Paul MacLean stood by Gryba on the play, instead putting the onus on Diaz.
“[If I’m Eller], I’m really mad at player 61, whoever he is, because he passed me the puck in the middle of the rink when I wasn’t looking,” MacLean said. “That’s always been a dangerous place as far as I know. Ever since I’ve been playing this game, that’s a dangerous place to be — bad things happen.
“I think it’s a hockey play that ended up going badly for Lars Eller.”
Eller had eight goals and 22 assists for the Canadiens in the regular season.
Diaz, making his NHL playoff debut, was left rattled by the hit but said he didn’t see Gryba coming toward Eller.
“Of course you don’t want to make passes like that. I just saw that [Eller] was open,” Diaz said. “If I see the guy coming, I never would do that pass. It’s not fun when you see your teammate like that.”
Game 2 of the series goes Friday night at the Bell Centre.