Leafs-Canucks rematch will have NHL player safety watching

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri talks about facing the Vancouver Canucks.

VANCOUVER – Matt Martin is alive.

And he’ll still be breathing 24 hours from now, despite Erik Gudbranson’s loud proclamation that “Matt Martin’s dead!” following the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ and Vancouver Canucks’ wild and dangerous affair at Air Canada Centre on Nov. 5.

“Do I mean it? No. I’m not going to kill the guy. That’s insanity,” Vancouver’s Gudbranson said Friday. “It was a fit of rage I had, to keep it simple. I understand it was wrong. The number of times I’ve said that is higher than most people expect.”

Two points is the best revenge, according to the 6-foot-5 defenceman.

“Just pissed off,” he said about the heated exchange. “In certain respects, I think everybody can relate to that moment I had at that time. Unfortunately, it got blown up.”

As will the rematch of that hate fest which saw 171 minutes in penalties assessed and which has earned a rare 4 p.m. local start time to draw Hockey Night in Canada’s primetime audience in the East.

In a city that is gradually pulling away from the rink—attendance at Rogers Arena is down for the third straight season—the anticipation is palpable for this one.

The cabbies want to gab about it, the second-hand ticket market has spiked, and Nazem Kadri half-joked that he wore “the usual disguise” out for dinner last night.

Yet even though Martin called their last meeting with the Canucks the Leafs’ most emotional game of the season, Kadri salivates over big-stage tilts, and Morgan Rielly, a Vancouver native, says the elevated hype makes the game more fun, that everyone is working hard to mute the retribution angle.

Retribution for what? On whom?

“Some things occurred,” Rielly understated. A very hockey-player way to downplay the events of Nov. 5.

To recap: Rielly body-checked Jannik Hansen so hard at centre ice, Hansen broke his rib which took him out of the lineup for weeks. Kadri slammed superstar Daniel Sedin with a helmet-popping blindside hit, later ruled unworthy of a suspension. Hansen fought Kadri. Alex Burrows speared Rielly and they dropped gloves. Martin took a run at small rookie Troy Stetcher, Ryan Miller jumped to the kid’s defence, mayhem ensued, both goalies got tossed, and a death threat was heard by reporters.

“I’m sure the league will be paying attention to what’s going on tomorrow,” Martin said.

Uh, yeah. Stephane Quintal, the senior vice president of NHL player safety, is flying in for the rematch. This is not typical.

“I just see him as someone watching the game. It doesn’t make that much of a difference to us,” says Kadri. “I’m always prepared. I’m not the only guy out there. I have my teammates to help protect me. We’re going to be all in it together. Two points is more important than any sort of revenge in this league.”

The officials will surely be encouraged to whistle at will, and neither roster is built for brawling in a sport drained of its enforcers.

Vancouver firecracker Derek Dorsett, who fought Leo Komarov and screamed for Martin in Round 1, won’t even dress. He’s sidelined with a suspected shoulder injury suffered Thursday against Arizona.

“What I’ve found over the years is there’s always a lot of talk and nothing happens,” said Mike Babcock. “Both teams want to win. Both teams can’t be foolish discipline-wise because of the power plays.”

In town early, the Leafs coach scouted the Canucks’ loss to the Anaheim Ducks Thursday night. His mind is on game-planning for goals and both teams truly believe they have a chance to avoid the next draft lottery. Two. Points.

“I don’t know what you’re looking for,” Babcock said, “but anything that happened in the past is in the past.”

Nothing to see here, folks. But feel free to tune in anyway.

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