Washington Capitals forward Lars Eller still has not watched the video of his first career fight, one of the only ugly sequences from his team’s 7-0, season-opening win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. The evening began with the first Stanley Cup banner-raising ceremony in franchise history, and Eller provided a perfect bookend: the seventh and final goal of the night.
But Eller also caught the attention of the Boston bench with his celebratory hand gesture, which he later said was intended for his teammates. A few minutes later, Bruins forward Brad Marchand — well-known for plenty of controversial moments during his decorated career — grabbed Eller and began to throw punches, pummeling the Capitals center. Eller, who eventually dropped his gloves as well, left the ice with his head split open and blood trickling down the right side of his face.
“It was a little surprising. I wasn’t really preparing for it, but you also know what kind of character Marchand is. So you can only be a little surprised,” Eller said Saturday. “I made a gesture toward our bench. Obviously, they didn’t like that. I think they were just sour from losing. If you’re looking for something to get mad about, you can always find something. … That’s how they took it. They were just sour from losing.”
Marchand — who was hit with a 10-minute misconduct and ejected but did not receive additional punishment from the NHL — said after the loss that Eller’s celebration was “unnecessary” and added: “He took an angle in front of our bench and celebrated in a 7-0 game. So I just let him know.”
That response evoked the unwritten rules of the sport, which some players addressed following the game and in the days after. Marchand believed he was following a code as a leader, while others saw his scrap with Eller as a series of sucker punches thrown at a player unwilling to fight.
“You don’t know with guys like him. I understand why they were frustrated at Lars there, but you go up to a guy and you ask him to fight, and if he doesn’t … it’s a long season,” Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said. “We play them a lot of times. They could have handled that differently.”
Washington’s veterans had hoped the NHL would levy supplemental discipline on Marchand, especially in the wake of its 20-game suspension of Capitals forward Tom Wilson. Wilson received such a harsh punishment in large part because of his history of illegal hits. Marchand also has a long disciplinary history, which Washington Coach Todd Reirden noted Saturday.
“That’s up to the [NHL] to decide,” Reirden said. “For me, it’s about protecting our players. Having a repeat offender for things like that, they need to be dealt with differently. We’ve kind of seen that with our own situation.”
Eller noted that he had not provoked any teams after a goal during his career, and that was not his intent when he celebrated his first goal of the season Wednesday. But he also didn’t rule out a confrontation with Marchand when the teams meet later this season.
When asked Saturday whether he thought the NHL should have suspended Marchand, Eller replied: “I don’t really care if they discipline him or not. Like I said, the good thing is we play them two more times, so I can handle it myself.”
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