MONTREAL - The Montreal Canadiens are down a game and a key player early in their series with the Ottawa Senators.
Habs centre Lars Eller was left unconscious and bleeding on the ice after taking a big hit from Ottawa defenceman Eric Gryba in the second period Senators' 4-2 victory in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final on Thursday night.
The Canadiens said after the game that Eller, who was taken off on a stretcher, suffered a concussion, plus facial and dental fractures, and would spend the night in hospital.
The hit came as Eller took a pass up the middle from Montreal defenceman Raphael Diaz.
"It's tough seeing a guy laying in a heap with blood coming out," said Canadiens centre Ryan White. "You never want to see that."
Gryba was handed a five-minute major for interference and an game misconduct.
"I can't make any comment," said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien. "We all saw the hit. I'm sure the league is going to review it."
While their coach remained tight-lipped, Habs players didn't hide their feelings.
"I'm not sure where the contact was but obviously it wasn't a clean play. It's something you've got to take out (of the game)," said winger Rene Bourque.
Replays showed Gryba making contact with Eller's head and body almost simultaneously.
"For me it looked it like it was right to the head. The league will look at it and take care of it," said rookie Montreal winger Brendan Gallagher. "It's tough to see your teammate down, tough to see him hurt. You just want to pick him up the best you can."
Gryba said he saw the replay and maintained the hit was clean.
"I stepped up to make a hit. I kept my shoulder down. He received the puck by the time I hit him," the six-foot-four, 222-pound blue-liner said. "My elbow was down and there was no intent to hurt him whatsoever and I hope that he's OK.
"I'm not out here to hurt anybody and it's never good to seeing anything like that. I hope he makes a full and speedy recovery."
Senators coach Paul MacLean stood by Gryba on the play, instead putting the onus on Diaz.
"(If I'm Eller), I'm really mad at player 61, whoever he is, because he passed me the puck in the middle of the rink when I wasn't looking," said MacLean. "That's always been a dangerous place as far as I know. Ever since I've been playing this game, that's a dangerous place to be — bad things happen.
"I think it's a hockey play that ended up going badly for Lars Eller."
Eller had eight goals and 22 assists for the Canadiens in the regular season and is a key part of the Montreal lineup.
Diaz, who was making his NHL playoff debut, was left rattled by the hit but said he didn't see Gryba coming.
"Of course you don't want to make passes like that. I just saw that (Eller) was open," said Diaz. "If I see the guy coming, I never would do that pass. It's not fun when you see your teammate like that."
Game 2 of the series goes Friday night at the Bell Centre.