OTTAWA, Ontario — Toronto Maple Leafs All-Star defenseman Morgan Rielly cross-checked Ottawa Senators center Ridly Greig to the head with 5.1 seconds remaining in a hotly contested game Saturday night between Atlantic Division rivals.
Greig had just sped into the Maple Leafs’ zone and fired a slap shot into an empty net, sealing Ottawa’s 5-3 victory, and Reilly took exception to the emphatic nature of the goal, setting off a scrum near the teams’ benches.
“We obviously didn’t like the result on the empty netter,” Toronto captain John Tavares said. “So, we’re going to stick together and stand our ground when necessary.”
Typically, with empty-net goals — a sign the game’s outcome has been decided — the scoring team simply pushes the puck into the net, or perhaps tries a wrist shot, so as not to show up the losing opponent. Very rarely do they wind up with a slap shot, especially so close to the crease.
“I thought it was appropriate,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said after the loss, when asked his thoughts on Rielly’s decision. “I’m sure [the league] will look at it, yeah.”
Keefe sent out enforcer Ryan Reaves for the final faceoff, but the officials quickly jumped in to prevent a brawl.
“He was reacting to a play,” Keefe said of Rielly. “Their player has the right to do what he wants in that moment. And our players have the right to react. And it’s the emotions of the game.”
Ottawa coach Jacques Martin saw the situation differently.
“He put the puck in the net,” he said of Greig. “Whether he shoots it or pushes it, [Rielly’s reaction], that shouldn’t happen.”
Indeed, it was an emotional night in Canada’s capital, as Shane Pinto had a goal and two assists for the home team. Claude Giroux, Vladimir Tarasenko and Josh Norris also scored for Ottawa in its return from a 10-day break. Joonas Korpisalo made 31 saves for the Senators before Greig closed the scoring.
“You never really know what Greiger’s going to do,” Norris said. “I mean, I love it, but I’m sure, obviously, if we’re on the other side of that I don’t know if we would like it either. I didn’t really like the retaliation, but I understand their frustration, but it’s over with and I guess it was entertaining.”
Auston Matthews scored his NHL-leading 42nd goal for Toronto. Matthew Knies and Max Domi also scored, and Martin Jones stopped 27 shots.
The Senators have won three in a row.
“It was really good,” Martin said of his club’s first game back. “I really liked the way our players responded and to me that was very satisfying.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.