Johnston: Scary scene overshadows exciting opener

MONTREAL — It was loud in this bubbling cauldron of hockey emotion, just like it always is.

The Bell Centre faithful was roaring with the kind of back-and-forth action that you expect on a jittery opening night full of sloppy defensive play. This was an Original Six rivalry at its best, with big hits and highlight-reel saves and scoring chances galore.

There was everything a diehard hockey fan could want.

And then everything fell silent.

The sight of Montreal Canadiens enforcer George Parros being carted off on a stretcher immediately sucked the energy and excitement out of the NHL’s curtain-raiser on Tuesday night. It was as if someone fired up the Dyson to clean up a mess.

Even with the Toronto Maple Leafs clinging to a one-goal lead early in the third period — they ended up pulling out a 4-3 victory over the Habs — all of the prevailing storylines and plot twists seemed moot once Parros struck his face on the ice at the end of his second fight with Colton Orr.

“It’s hard for the players to emotionally get back up to the same level (after that),” said Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. “There is quite a delay and it is an event where nobody feels very good when you’re involved in that.”

Added Orr: “Scary situation. You just hope he’s alright.”

The official word from the Habs was that Parros suffered a concussion and had been taken to hospital. He left a pool of blood on the ice and appeared to have a gash on his chin.

What you didn’t get from either team in the immediate aftermath of the event was any reflection on the role of fighting in the game. That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Montreal traded for Parros back in July because of games exactly like this one.

There were five fights in total on Tuesday and that shouldn’t be entirely uncommon in the realigned Atlantic Division, which features several heavyweights. Depending on the status of Parros — you have to believe he’ll be sidelined for some time — Montreal may even look to add more muscle.

“Just bad luck in that situation,” said Habs coach Michel Therrien. “You don’t see those situations a lot. He fell and hit his face on the ice.”

And so another season begins, one that is almost certain to pit Toronto and Montreal directly against one another. With the new divisional playoff system that was introduced in the off-season, it would come as no surprise if the rivals ended up battling each other for the final spot in the spring.

It is far too early to give the edge to either side, especially after the startling number of defensive errors committed in Game 1 of 82.

This was far from the type of performance we’ve come to expect from Montreal stalwart Andrei Markov — he was burned particularly badly on Tyler Bozak’s short-handed goal — while the sloppy Leafs were lucky to survive the first 20 minutes down just 2-1.

It would come as no surprise if 19-year-old defenceman Morgan Rielly was inserted for his first NHL game on Wednesday night in Philadelphia. Paul Ranger and Jake Gardiner could be candidates to sit in his place. There will also be plenty of focus on systems play once the team returns to the practice ice.

“We’ve got some work to do defensively,” said Carlyle.

The starting goalies, Carey Price and James Reimer, were both quite good despite the number of goals scored. They faced 75 combined shots and kept this from looking even more like a game of shinny than it already did.

For Reimer, it was a night of redemption after being relegated to the backup role for the season opener at Bell Centre last year. He was thrilled to register a victory after getting the nod to start over hometown boy Jonathan Bernier.

“When I’m in there now during games, I’m not competing against my own teammate,” said Reimer. “I’m competing against the other team.”

Therrien felt Price “deserved better” after making 34 saves and still coming out on the losing end. This is a big season for the Team Canada hopeful who will hope that he gets a little more help from his teammates in the games ahead.

Under normal circumstances, all of these storylines would merit their own deconstruction and detailed discussion, but this just didn’t end up feeling like a normal night. All of the excitement that greeted a new season and the buzz that came with Phil Kessel’s monster contract extension was wiped away by the time the cleaning crew started tidying the Bell Centre.

The thoughts instead were with Parros, a man who has fought 211 times as a professional hockey player, many of them for the Carlyle-led Anaheim Ducks.

“He’s a great person, a great guy to coach,” said Carlyle. “It’s just unfortunate the situation that happened tonight.”

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