That noted pugilist Morgan Rielly had a scrape on his nose and a welt beneath his right eye the day after the second and third fights of his NHL career.
A relative featherweight, Rielly got picked on by Pat (sounds like goon) Maroon of Tampa Bay on Monday before he turned all Mike Tyson on Maroon’s teammate, Jan Rutta.
The fury with which Rielly unleashed a punch to Rutta’s face as he dragged the Lightning defenceman to the ice had Toronto fans in a tizzy on Tuesday.
“Honestly, build Morgan Rielly a statue,” one Maple Leafs follower wrote on Twitter.
“The chances of you being murdered by soft-spoken Morgan Rielly is not that high ... but it’s never zero,” said another.
In 686 previous games in his nine-year career Tessa Virtue’s beau had dropped his gloves just once before the melee took place in the third period of Toronto’s 5-0 victory at Scotiabank Arena. Three players on each side got sent to the showers, including Rielly, who opened a nasty gash on Rutta’s forehead.
“It was the the intensity of the playoffs,” Rielly said. “Both teams wanted to win and hold their ground. It is what you would expect in Game 1.”
The brouhaha seemed to have been sparked by Tampa Bay’s Corey Perry – no surprise, there – and also included the Maple Leafs’ Wayne Simmonds and Ilya Lyubushkin. Earlier, Kyle Clifford of Toronto had been kicked out after being assessed a game misconduct after a boarding penalty.
Clifford had a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday with the league’s department of player safety and was assessed a one-game suspension. Sheldon Keefe, the Maple Leafs coach, hoped the NHL would go light on him because Clifford missed most of the contest after he was ejected early in the first period. Also on Tuesday, the NHL fined Simmonds and Maroon US$2,250 each and Perry US$2,500 for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Before the series started, Keefe predicted it would be very physical if not “borderline violent.” Clifford is one of Toronto’s most rugged players.
“He has got to toe the line and it’s not an easy ask for a player like him,” Keefe said. “It was a split-second decision and it wasn’t a good one and he knows it.”
The best-of-seven series resumes on Wednesday with Toronto trying to take a 2-0 lead. The Lightning has won back-to-back Stanley Cups and will have the home ice advantage at Amalie Arena on Friday and Sunday.
Between them, the Atlantic Division revivals combined for 24 penalties and 113 penalty minutes. Barely half of the game was played at five on five.
“You come in after a win at this time of year and you want to get back on the ice,” Keefe said after practice at the Ford Performance Centre. “At the same time it’s an even-keel type of thing because you know it is just one game.
“We know we are playing against a team that has won championships because they know how to respond.”
Toronto may have gritty left wing Michael Bunting back in the lineup on Wednesday. The 26-year-old led all NHL rookies with 63 points but sat out the past three games of the regular season as well as Game 1 with an undisclosed injury.
Bunting and Simmonds are the team’s best irritants.
“He is made for the playoffs,” Keefe said of Bunting, who accrued 80 minutes in penalties during the campaign. “He plays every game like it is the postseason.”
Bunting watched the series opener from a suite at Scotiabank Arena. Although he is from Toronto, it was the first Maple Leafs playoff game he has attended.
“It was unreal for me,” Bunting said. “I was standing up and cheering. I felt like a little fan up there. That was playoff hockey.”
Although fans loved it, Keefe was not too keen on Rielly having joined in the ruckus that was born in the Lightning’s frustration.
“You don’t like to see guys who are not used to [fighting] involved in that,” the coach said. “It was somewhat calculated. We could debate it but it is part of the game and we have to be ready for it.”
Rielly had fought only once before, against Alexandre Burrows of Vancouver early in the 2016 season. On Monday night he had his second and third just seconds apart. He took a lot of blows from Maroon but rocked Rutta.
Mark him 1-1 on the series fight card.
“It’s not something I’m overly familiar with,” Rielly said as he poked fun at himself. “I wasn’t exactly exchanging blows with anybody out there. I was mostly receiving them. It was a scrum, that’s all.”