MONTREAL – Guy Carbonneau watched forward Tom Kostopoulos deck Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Kimmo Timonen with a left hook and wondered what all the fuss was about.
The Montreal Canadiens coach, after taking a second look at the incident on video, called it one more hit in a tough playoff game and a normal reaction to taunting from the Flyers.
”I think he deserved it,” Carbonneau said. ”That’s why they didn’t call any (major) penalties on it.”
Merited or not, the emotion level in the deadlocked NHL playoff series between Montreal and Philadelphia shot upward with the incident that occurred after R.J. Umberger sealed the Flyers’ 4-2 victory with his second goal of the game Saturday night.
The best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series is tied 1-1 going into Game 3 on Monday night in Philadelphia.
After the Umberger goal with 2:21 left to play, video replays showed Timonen turn toward Kostopoulos and smile as the Flyers players skated away. The Canadiens checking winger skated up to Philadelphia’s top defenceman from behind and knocked him down with a punch.
Randy Jones jumped Kostopoulos and a skirmish ensued, but the only penalties called by referees Paul Devorski and Mike Leggo were roughing minors to Kostopoulos and the Flyers’ Scottie Upshall.
After the game, Flyers coach John Stevens called the punch ”cowardly.”
”After the goal, they started taunting our players,” he said. ”You score, you go to your bench.
”You’re happy. Take the two points and go home. Don’t turn around and start narguing (needling) our players.”
Kostopoulos won’t have to worry about receiving any disciplinary action from the league. An NHL spokesman said Sunday the league never considered suspending him for the incident.
That didn’t surprise Carbonneau, who wasn’t expecting his player to be banned.
”He didn’t get a (major) penalty – all he did was a facewash,” Carbonneau said. ”He didn’t crosscheck or high-stick him in the face.
”A lot of things happened during the course of the game. There’s one team that shouldn’t talk. They had the most suspensions in the league. But that’s part of the game. Things happen. Emotions are high. But that’s aside now and we still have to play Game 3.”
At the Flyers’ practice in Voorhees, N.J., on Sunday, Stevens downgraded the shot to it having been ”a little cheap,” and didn’t make a big issue of it.
And Kostopoulos admitted he over-reacted to the Timonen smirk.
”I just let my emotions take control,” said Kostopoulos, who had been the hero of Game 1 on Thursday with a goal 48 seconds into overtime of a 4-3 win. ”I was upset.
”I was losing. We were about to lose the game. When you’re on top, maybe you can do stuff like that. I should have controlled my emotions and skated back to the bench.”
Bad blood is sure to carry into Monday night’s game. Carbonneau said he’d mention the taunting in his pre-game pep talk. But Kostopoulos said the Canadiens have to concentrate on winning the game.
”It’s going to be an intense series,” he said. ”Both teams are playing hard.
”I think Game 3 will be a big battle. But both teams are going to want to stay disciplined because the power plays on both teams are so good. So it’ll be interesting.”
The Canadiens feel they played well enough to win Game 2 after firing 80 pucks toward the Flyers net, 36 of which got through to count as shots.
A combination of strong play by Philadelphia goalie Martin Biron and Montreal’s inability to hit wide-open nets gave the Flyers they win on away ice they were seeking.
That and rookie goaltender Carey Price having a so-so night after having played brilliantly in the series opener.
”I’m sure he’s going to recover from that,” said Carbonneau.
The Canadiens coach said he expects to make changes for Game 3, but hadn’t yet decided what those would be. Forwards Michael Ryder, Guillaume Latendresse and Greg Stewart have yet to play against Philadelphia.
He shortened his bench in the third period, moving Mark Streit from the wing back to defence in place of rookie Ryan O’Byrne, and going with three lines. O’Byrne dressed in place of veteran Patrice Brisebois, who suffered a leg injury in the game-day skate Saturday morning.
Brisebois did not accompany the team on its flight to Philadelphia and is to undergo tests Monday. He may rejoin the team for Game 4.
One player Carbonneau wants to see play better, particularly in the defensive zone, is fourth-line centre Maxim Lapierre.
”He was good in the first round against Boston,” the coach said. ”In the first two games here – he’s capable of playing better.
”I think now he’s a little more nervous than usual. He doesn’t feel comfortable on the ice. Maybe he has to stop thinking and move his feet more.”
Added Lapierre: ”I just want to play good defensively and come back to the style of play we like to play.”
But while the lineup may be tweaked, Carbonneau wants the same level of play from his team, which did everything right to create scoring chances, but let too many glittering chances slip away.
”We lost a battle, but we didn’t lose the war,” he said. ”I thought it was our best game.
”We played better than we did in the first game and we lost. We had enough scoring chances to win. Now we just have to go there, which is a place where we’ve played really well, and keep playing like we did. If we keep having 20 scoring chances a game, we’ll win our share of games.”
In Voorhees, injured Flyers winger Mike Knuble skated with his teammates and said he may be ready to return either for Game 4 on Wednesday night in Philadelphia or Game 5 on Saturday in Montreal.
Knuble, who suffered a hamstring injury in the first round against Washington, said he would definitely be back before the end of the series.