TORONTO – When Mikhail Grabovski jumped to his feet quickly and skated off after lingering on the ice in the aftermath of an injury, boos rained down from the Air Canada Centre crowd.
A replay showed just how bad the injury was as blood poured from his face after he was cut by David Clarkson’s right skate late in the second period. Grabovski needed 20 stitches to close two separate cuts on the right side of his face and returned early in the third.
“He’s a warrior,” Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said after the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2-1 shootout victory. “Of course he wants to play out there. Very scary for him second period, end of the second period got skate on the face and (he) came back and have good chance to score in the third.”
Grabovski wasn’t going to let the fluke accident keep him from finishing the game on the night he was returning to Toronto for the first time since the Leafs bought him out over the summer. He finished with two shots in 16:18 of ice time but earned plenty of respect in both locker-rooms for bouncing back from the injury.
“Grabbo’s a hard-working guy and he’s an honest guy,” Leafs goaltender James Reimer said. “I wasn’t surprised that he stayed in there and fought for his team.”
Capitals goalie Braden Holtby was just glad to see Grabovski get back into the game. But he also wasn’t stunned.
“He doesn’t get enough credit for how tough he is,” Holtby said. “He battles through a lot, he fights hard through every game works as hard as anyone on our team. It’s great to see he didn’t get hurt too bad.”
Grabovski blamed himself for what happened with seconds left in the second period.
“I think it’s a little bit of my fault because I hold the puck too long,” he said.
Coach Adam Oates was satisfied with how Grabovski played overall and after returning to the game following the scary incident. But the 29-year-old centre was not chosen for the shootout.
That did surprise Reimer, who always used to practise shootouts with Grabovski when they were teammates.
“Just me and him we would go kind of round after round,” said Reimer, who stopped Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer in the shootout. “Honestly I thought he would shoot. I don’t know why he didn’t shoot. Maybe his injury was getting to him. I mean his face looked a little banged-up. But I thought for sure he’d be jumping over in the first three. He didn’t, and who knows what would’ve happened.”
Grabovski said it was hard to play against his former teammates for the first time. He spent five seasons in Toronto and calls it his second home.
“It was like practice for me because every guy tried to talk to me and I talked to them. Nice guys,” he said. “I’m happy we play only one time in Toronto this year.”
But the one time ended up being the Capitals’ third straight loss.
“I’m disappointed,” Grabovski said. “We had a good chance to win the game but just a little bit of bad luck.”