TORONTO – Buffalo Sabres tough guy John Scott was looking for a fight. The Toronto Maple Leafs weren’t happy when he picked Phil Kessel as his opponent.
Kessel, who had already scored twice in the Leafs’ 5-3 pre-season win on Sunday, stands at six feet tall compared to Scott, who’s eight inches taller.
The two aren’t even close to being in the same weight class and Kessel wasn’t in any mood to get involved. Kessel backtracked and swung his stick a few times at Scott as several teammates rushed in.
“It was pretty stupid, right? He said he was going to jump me,” Kessel said.
“What are you going to do? He’s a big boy so if he’s coming after me, what are you going to do?”
The incident came with 10 minutes left in the game and set off a line brawl and a goalie fight between Leafs’ goalie Jonathan Bernier and Ryan Miller of the Sabres.
It came right after a fight between Jamie Devane of the Leafs and Corey Tropp of the Sabres.
“That guy’s a big guy, six foot five,” said Sabres head coach Ron Rolston. “And (Tropp’s) a smaller guy but certainly a battler. So guys weren’t happy about it.”
Tropp was left bloodied on the ice after the fight and had to leave the game.
“(Tropp) was the guy who instigated the fight,” said Leafs coach Randy Carlyle when asked about the incident that allegedly left the Sabres upset and sparked Scott to go after Kessel.
“Obviously maybe they felt that was the problem was that there was a bigger man fighting a smaller guy.”
Kessel was issued a match penalty for swinging his stick, which means an automatic suspension pending a ruling from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
Any discipline the Leafs sniper faces will likely pale in comparison to what teammate David Clarkson may be expecting as he jumped off the bench to join the fracas.
Clarkson could get 10 games for coming off the bench.
“We’re not proud or happy that went on, that’s for sure,” said Carlyle, who also said that he sent out Kessel’s line in the hopes of defusing the situation after the fight between Devane and Tropp.
“I think Dave Clarkson made a mistake and now we’ll pay for it.”
Clarkson was unavailable to the media after the game.
“I think Clarkson will get 10 games for that,” said Miller. “Are we going to see Clarkson our first game against these guys? I don’t have my schedule. So probably not the brightest move by him. But I guess they figured they needed two guys to take down John (Scott).”
As the altercation reached a fever pitch, Bernier skated out of his crease and challenged Miller. The two went at it near the Sabres’ blue-line.
They grappled for a few minutes as the officials were otherwise preoccupied with the rest of the violence.
“I just asked him if I wanted to go and obviously I don’t think he seemed that he actually wanted to go but that’s the way it goes,” said Bernier. “It’s a hockey game but you get hyper in energy and I wanted to defend my teammates.”
Bernier was replaced by Drew MacIntyre and Miller by Matt Hackett.
Apart from Kessel’s two goals, the Leafs also had goals from Trevor Smith, Josh Leivo and Jake Gardiner while Nikita Zadorov, Jamie McBain and Tropp scored for Buffalo.
By the end of the game, the benches on both sides were looking bare after numerous fighting majors and 10-minute misconducts were handed out.
A night after the same two teams needed a 15-round shootout to settle a 3-2 win for the Leafs, Kessel opened the scoring at 1:35 of the first.
Kessel was camped in front of the Sabres goal and was in the right place when Tyler Bozak’s centring pass was deflected into his path and he knocked in the loose puck.
Smith’s first of the pre-season came just past the halfway mark when he was the beneficiary of another Buffalo deflection. Gardiner led a three-on-one rush into the Buffalo zone and fed a pass from the left side that took a deflection off a Buffalo skate and, with Miller taken out of position, Smith had a relatively easy tap-in.
After Zadorov got the Sabres on the board in the dying seconds of the first, Kessel restored the lead at 15:49 of the second period when he cut toward the middle of the ice from the left side and snapped a quick shot past Miller.
Leivo’s goal proved to be the winner at 16:52 of the third when he banged in a cross-ice pass from James van Riemsdyk.