By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Atlantic Division blood feud between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs claimed a new victim on Saturday night. One that left the Bruins holding their breath, too, as Charlie McAvoy (in just his second game back after missing the previous 20 due to concussion issues) was hit with a vicious hit up high from the Leafs' Zach Hyman in the third period.
Dropped to his knees behind the Boston goal in pain, McAvoy was pulled from the game by the league's concussion spotter, and would seemingly finish the game well enough to return, as he was seen on the B's bench by the game's end.
Zach Hyman with a late hit on Charlie McAvoy. pic.twitter.com/ogkrorYAi0
— Marina Molnar (@mkmolnar) December 9, 2018
Still, the fact that the Maple Leafs waited until they were down four goals with 10 minutes left in the third period to bring their physicality to the rink, particularly to the jaw of a puck-less Charlie McAvoy, was not lost on the Bruins.
"I thought it was late. I thought it was unnecessary," Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said after Boston's 6-3 win. "It’s one of those things where you’re at a point in the game, hasn’t been a lot of body checking from the other team and all of a sudden there’s a late unsuspecting one. It annoys you. Especially when it’s Charlie who just came back [from a concussion].
"So you’re wondering are they targeting him or not? You don’t know that. I’d like to think it was just a guy playing hard and got there late and didn’t pull up, but our guys responded well."
The Black and Gold's response began with Matt Grzelcyk immediately going after Hyman and dropping the gloves and giving it a go despite a four-inch, 35-pound mismatch on Grzelcyk's behalf.
"It just seems like every time one of those hits happen it’s our smallest guy that’s the closest guy in the vicinity," Cassidy, who earlier in the day dismissed the need for an enforcer, remarked. "But they always go and show up, so you have to give them credit for that."
"It’s obviously something you don’t like to see especially when you kind of have a lead like that," Grzelcyk, handed two game misconducts in the scrap, said after the win. "So, just trying to stick up for my teammate there."
Grzelcyk agreed when asked if the hit from Hyman seemed to have some malice attached to it, and Bruins winger Brad Marchand believed that Hyman was indeed targeting McAvoy for McAvoy's hit on Mitch Marner earlier in the game.
"[Hyman] was pissed off because Chucky hit Marner early in the game and he was trying to get a little retribution," Marchand said. "But we’re a family here and we stick up for one another. Grizzy did a great job jumping in there and [Chris Wagner] did a phenomenal job stepping up and following up the next shift, so it could have gone a lot worse out there than it was."
The Wagner hit on Morgan Rielly, as Marchand alluded to, brought the Garden crowd to its feet, but was met with a scrap against Wagner initiated by the Leafs' Ron Hainsey, and left the Maple Leafs more than annoyed with the entire sequence.
— Nathan Caranci (@NathanCaranci) December 9, 2018
"It looked that way from the bench especially on that last hit," Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri said when asked if Wagner's hit was a questionable one. "That’s the video they show us at the beginning of the year of what not to do in my opinion. It’s in the leagues hands now and I’m sure they are going to look at it."
The Bruins, meanwhile, seemed to consider this simply matching the tone the Leafs decided to bring to the third period.
"[Rielly] was the one with the puck so you can’t really cheap-shot someone," Wagner contested. "I thought it was a pretty clean hit for the most part, stayed on my feet. When something like that happens to Charlie you want to respond in the correct way."
"They want to play hard to the final whistle then we’ll certainly go right along with them," said Cassidy.
The Bruins and Leafs conclude their season series Jan. 12 in Toronto.