NHL Is Back in All Its Tribal Glory

NHL Is Back in All Its Tribal Glory

TORONTO — We’re a team, said Dion Phaneuf, every way he knew how. It was the day after his Toronto Maple Leafs had pummelled the Montreal Canadiens 6-0 in a game that became predictably messy — “When it gets lopsided,” Montreal goalie Carey Price told reporters, “the jokers take over” — and by the end there were some renewed blood feuds, fresh angry recriminations, and some mild alleged cannibalism. Hey, that’s Saturday night for you.

“We’ve got a tight group here, a group that sticks together, and we showed that last night,” Phaneuf said. “We’re a team that wants to play hard for each and every guy, and play hard for the guy across from you or next to you, and I think last night showed how tight we were as a team, and it was great to see that. Because any time you get into those games you want everyone involved, and everyone sticking up for each other, and we showed that.”

Did the Maple Leafs’ Mikhail Grabovski bite Max Pacioretty during the Canadiens game?

As Leafs defenceman Mike Kostka put it, “I think it just shows we’re a pack, we’re a team.”

Teams always say this kind of thing, because hockey is among the most tribal of sports. No other sport has as many dirty plays, with similarly serious consequences; no other sport has a greater grey area, or as much of an requirement and appetite for vengeance. Saturday night the Leafs swaggered through the game, and when Habs middleweight Brandon Prust began being a pest, looking to pick on someone who wasn’t his size, Brian Burke’s vision of the Leafs came to life. Fights, scrums, nightclub-parking-lot, police-blotter stuff.

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