MONTREAL — What do you do when the man with the NHL’s hardest shot winds up for a one-timer and you’re standing helplessly in its path, just 10 feet away? You brace yourself and hope for the best.
That’s what Montreal Canadiens forward Phillip Danault did with just 1:37 remaining in the second period of what turned out to be a 4-3 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday. Unfortunately, he got the worst.
Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk, who scored on a breakaway 2:55 into the second frame, crossed the Montreal blue line at full speed near the end of the period, dropped the puck to Zdeno Chara, and the 6-foot-9, 255-pound behemoth ripped a rising shot that caught Danault right in the head.
A horrifying scene ensued, with players from both teams circling a motionless Danault, and a hush coming over the 21,302 fans in attendance.
The players tapped their sticks on the ice and the fans began to applaud as Danault raised himself to his knees, but things fell silent in a hurry as he slunk back down to the ice. There was blood all over the collar of his jersey, a towel discarded by Canadiens trainer Graham Rynbend on the ice had some on it, too, and a stretcher was wheeled out to take the player to the hospital.
“Last news we got, he was in the hospital getting treatment and he was doing fine,” said Chara. “So obviously I’m wishing him a fast and full recovery.”
Canadiens coach Claude Julien said after the game that Danault would be kept in the hospital overnight for observation, that reports on his health were positive, and that he’d be re-evaluated on Sunday.
What a relief.
It was a night that was shaping up to be a magical one. One of the NHL’s longest standing and most-bitter rivalries played out as you hoped it would, featuring up-and-down hockey—and a few more mistakes than we’re accustomed to seeing because both teams were shaking off the rust from their bye week.
Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty opened the scoring at 3:22 of the first period. Brad Marchand responded with a power-play marker 14:18 later.
Bruins rookie sensation Charlie McAvoy sent DeBrusk in all alone on Carey Price and the left-handed winger pushed his way to Price’s right and sent a change-up over his shoulder to give his team the 2-1 lead.
Then Canadiens fourth liner Nicolas Deslauriers intercepted a Bruins pass three minutes later in the neutral zone, stormed his way up the middle of the ice and uncorked a beautiful shot to beat Tuukka Rask on the blocker side to tie the game.
The players were sent off the ice, but most of them stayed—with Chara never leaving Danault’s side.
“I wanted to be there,” he said. “Obviously I wanted to talk to him. I felt bad, obviously, that he got hit. I wanted to make sure he was okay and he was responding.
“It does happen. It’s just very unfortunate. Sometimes we all get hit somewhere in the upper body. On that particular play, a pass off the boards, and the puck probably was bouncing a little bit. Very unfortunate. You don’t want to ever see anyone getting hit in the head area or neck area and being carried off the ice so hopefully Phillip is going to recover.”
Pacioretty was standing just a few feet away from Danault, opposite Chara.
“He’s a good teammate and friend, to take a shot in the head like that…it was really hard to see,” he said. “I don’t know what else to say about that.”
Deslauriers was shaken.
“It’s not something you want to see,” he said. “That’s why when we came back in the room after it felt like it had just taken the air out of the game. We were wishing him the best. I’m eager to get out of here and text his girlfriend to know what’s doing. It hits you right in the heart. You don’t wish to see that happen to anyone—not even your worst enemy. It’s so dangerous.”
The shot that hit Danault was traveling at 123 km/h (76 m.p.h.). It made a horrifying sound. One can only imagine what the result might have been if Chara, who has been crowned the NHL’s hardest shooter several times and owns the fastest clocked shot ever recorded (108.8 m.p.h.) at All Star Weekend, had caught it clean.
That was a thought that resonated in the eight minutes it took before Danault was taken off the ice. One that hadn’t gone away after Marchand ended the game with the laser that beat Price through the legs in the shootout, giving his outfit a 14-team advance over the Canadiens in the standings.
The biggest relief of the night came when Danault’s father Alain took to Facebook.
“Firstly, thank you all for your kind words and your support tonight,” he wrote in French on behalf of his wife Michele. “I just simply wanted to mention Phillip is doing well and his scan came back normal.
“He’ll be kept in the hospital overnight for observation purposes and as a precaution.