OTTAWA – A first-round series already full of emotion will have more fuel added to the fire on Tuesday night.
Senators defenceman Eric Gryba, who was suspended two games for a hit on Canadiens centre Lars Eller in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final, will be back in the Ottawa lineup against Montreal for Game 4.
Senators coach Paul MacLean confirmed after the morning skate at Scotiabank Place that Gryba would suit up with Ottawa leading the series 2-1.
“I expect Eric to come out and play his game and do what he can for our team,” MacLean said. “But like I said (Monday), it will be interesting.”
Gryba caught Eller with his head down at the Montreal blue-line just as he received a pass in Game 1, sending the Habs forward flying.
Eller, who was sent to hospital with a concussion, broken nose and some lost teeth, remains out of the Canadiens lineup.
Montreal coach Michel Therrien and a number of his players were incensed after the hit and Ottawa’s reaction, sparking a war of words that included Habs forward Brandon Prust calling MacLean “a bug-eyed, fat walrus.”
Gryba says he can’t control how the Canadiens react to his return.
“I’m keeping my head above (it) and trying to stay as calm and collected as possible,” he said. “It’s obviously high stakes and high emotions but I can’t let that affect my game in a negative way.”
Gryba watched the last two games of the series from the press box after being handed the ban by NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, including Sunday’s fight-filled 6-1 Ottawa victory that saw the teams combine for 236 minutes in penalties.
“It was tough watching that. Those are the games you want to be involved in,” Gryba said of the contest that included a line brawl and the first NHL hat trick for rookie Senators centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau. “I think that was the best hockey game I’ve ever watched in my life.”
Despite the verbal barbs being tossed back and forth between players and coaches on both sides, Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges says his team has to keep its cool if it’s going to even the series.
“Playoffs isn’t a time for individual payback or retribution,” he said. “The best way to get back and to make Lars feel good is to go out and win hockey games. It’s too important a time of year to do anything stupid.”
Added Therrien: “Our main focus is to be sure we play a good solid game. That has to be our main focus and it’s going to be our main focus.”
Gorges says the Canadiens will have to match the Senators intensity, especially early on.
“We have to understand that Ottawa is going to push. That’s a team that works hard. They work extremely hard. We can’t get frustrated by anything that they do,” he said. “We have to continually stick to what makes us good and no lose our gameplan, not lose our systems, not lose our focus—just continue to fight no matter what the circumstance is, keep playing.”
Notes: Montreal’s P.K. Subban was one of three nominees announced Tuesday for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenceman. … Other than the addition of Gryba, MacLean didn’t expect any other lineup changes for the Senators. … Therrien says forwards Brian Gionta and Ryan White will both miss Game 4 for the Canadiens with upper-body injuries.