With the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers taking the hockey and sports world by storm with their brawling on Wednesday evening, it's time to recall a major event in Ottawa Senators history. Much like the Rangers and Capitals, the Senators have had their fair share of brawls in the past. Whether it is the Senators and Canadiens playoff series in 2013, or a number of games against the Toronto Maple Leafs over the years, Ottawa is no stranger to games where hockey takes a side step to the fisticuffs. One of the most infamous games in Senators history occurred on March 5th, 2004 against the Philadelphia Flyers. This game set the NHL record for most penalties in minutes (PIMs) with 417, and became a classic game in the history of the NHL. In order to understand the role of line brawls in hockey, we must revisit this game and the consequences of it.
The actual brawl that occurred that night was not an event that appeared out of nowhere, Like many classic prizefights, there was history involved. In the previous meeting between the Senators and Flyers on February 26th, 2004, there was an incident involving Senators forward Martin Havlat and Flyers forward Mark Recchi. In the final period of the game on the 26th, Havlat swung his stick directly at the head of Recchi. He made contact with Recchi’s face, and was assessed a game misconduct, and a rare “intent to injure” penalty. This prompted then Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock to respond after the game. “Someday someone's going to make him eat his lunch… This is something in my opinion that the players should take care of.” Despite Havlat claiming that the swing was accidental, he was suspended for two games, making him eligible for a return on March 5th, the rematch against the Flyers. Fast Forward to March 5th, and both the Senators and Flyers were in the midst of a tight playoff race. When the puck dropped in Philadelphia that night, it was about to be one of the more infamous games in Senators and Flyers history. The first and second periods of the game went by without much controversy. The Flyers were clearly motivated however, as they took a 4-2 lead, including Recchi’s 25th of the season. The third period is where the game got out of control.
When you look at the box score for this game, what jumps out to you is the 417 PIMs, but what many people forget is that the vast majority of them came after the 18:15 mark of the third period. The Flyers had taken a 5-2 lead, and it was clear that tensions were building. There was lots of stick work on both sides, late-ish hits, and a few penalties back and forth for the third period, but overall, the game was trending towards a simple 5-2 victory for Philadelphia. That all changed with 2:06 remaining in the third.
The Senators were wrapping up an unsuccessful power play when Chris Neil was called offside. Flyers defenceman Danny Markov shoved Neil after the whistle had blown, which led to a small confrontation. Senators coach Jacques Martin, sensing what just occurred, then sent out enforcer Rob Ray on the ice for the following face off in the Senators end of the ice. Hitchcock counters with fellow enforcer Donald Brashear, and the inevitable is set in motion. Despite the officials also sensing the writing on the wall and speaking to both benches, Ray and Brashear drop the gloves less than 30 seconds after the face off. The fight ended in a bloodied Ray, but the real brawl came after Senators defenseman Todd Simpson grabbed Brashear, and several teammates joined in.
This was the opening salvo in a brawl which had fights in all of the weight classes. A goalie fight between Patrick Lalime and Robert Esche, as well as Shaun Van Allen and Branko Radivojevic. After the initial wave of fights, and the PIMs dished out, the game resumed. Immediately after the drop of the puck, Neil and Radovan Somik fought, with Neil ending it as quickly as it began. Simultaneously, the 6-8 Zdneo Chara had begun sparring with 6-2 Mattias Timander, with Chara also ending that fight rather quickly. Once again, it was cleaned up, and the game resumed, only until the next face off. Right after the puck was dropped, Mike Fisher and Michal Handzus dropped the gloves, with Fisher beating Handzus rather badly.
At this point, the officials had had enough, and spoke rather sternly to Hitchcock and Martin, desperately trying to get the game back under control. The talk worked for a moment, as the next faceoff resulted in 24 seconds of hockey before Wade Redden and John LeClair decided to have a go, followed by Brian Smolinski and Mark Recchi. After Recchi was ejected alongside the other combatants, he appeared to point at coach Martin as he was leaving, further dosing fire on the flame. With less than a dozen players left on both benches combined, there was one more fight left in the teams. Once again, immediately following the face off, Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp teed off on each other, resulting in the last fight of the evening. The Senators would score with 13 seconds left to make it a two-goal game, but the game ended in a 5-3 Flyers victory.
In total, 417 penalty minutes were handed out that night, beating the previous NHL record of 406. The Flyers accrued 211 PIMs, which also stands as an NHL record for an individual team. 16 players received at least 10 PIMs, Jason Spezza received the game high of 35 PIMs total, which remains a Senators record to this day.
For the Flyers, Brashear led the team that night with 34. No supplementary discipline was handed out as a result, the exception being Markov, who was suspended for receiving his 3rd game misconduct of the season. The Flyers and the Senators would play again later that season, but nothing controversial would occur, as the Senators and Flyers both had their priorities on the playoffs. The 2003-04 season would end with the Senators eliminated in the first round by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Flyers eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The game would live on in the memories of the NHL for years to come.
After the conclusion of the 2004-05 NHL lockout, the league introduced several new rules and penalties. One of these rules was to suspend any players called for an instigating penalty in the final five minutes of the game. While there was no clear reference to this particular game from the NHL, it was clear that it was in response to incidents like this. The brawl in Philly, alongside the Steve Moore-Todd Bertuzzi incident brought the conversation of violence in hockey back into the mainstream.
This conversation is still being discussed today, and the brawl between Washington and New York last week is, once again, making people think about the place of fighting in the game.
By Ben Fraser | Sens Nation Hockey