MONTREAL — It was one of the best performances the Montreal Canadiens have offered all season and, in the end, it was completely clouded by a potentially devastating injury to one of their fiercest competitors.
With 11:02 remaining in the third period, and with the Canadiens leading the Dallas Stars 3-2, Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw charged in on Stars defenceman Greg Pateryn and collided helmet to helmet with him at the Dallas blue line. Pateryn, incensed, got up after the hit and jumped on top of Shaw, punching him twice and slamming his head into the ice before realizing that he was unconscious.
“He was knocked out as soon as he hit me,” said Pateryn. “He knocked himself out when he hit me. I didn’t realize he was knocked out until he was on the ice and his eyes were in the back of his head.
“You play like that, that’s what happens sometimes.”
Playing like that has been Shaw’s trademark over his seven years in the NHL. It helped him win two Stanley Cups in Chicago and incited Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin to trade for him and sign him to a six-year, 23.4 million contract in the summer of 2016.
But you have to think all of that’s in jeopardy if this latest hit proves to be a concussion for Shaw.
It was on a similar play to the one we saw in Tuesday’s game that Shaw suffered his second concussion in the span of four months—when he hit New York Rangers defenceman Brady Skjei in Game 1 of last year’s playoffs. Their heads collided but Shaw wasn’t knocked out on that play and didn’t present any obvious symptoms.
A game later Shaw took a crosscheck to the head from defenceman Brendan Smith. And it was only after absorbing two big hits from defenceman Dan Girardi and getting knocked around in a fight with Smith three games later that he was finally diagnosed by team officials.
Shaw later admitted he had suffered silently with symptoms in the lead-up to those final blows, concealing symptoms and lying to doctors about his condition.
“They put you through the protocol and you focus to make sure you pass every protocol you can,” he told Sportsnet back in September. “All of us, not just me, we’re all hockey players; we have that nature of wanting to play, wanting to be there for the team. We don’t want to miss games and we push ourselves so hard to make sure we’re not missing games. I would come in and try to act normal just to get by and I’d go home and keep everything to myself. You tell everyone you’re feeling fine, but deep down you know there’s something wrong with you.”
There was no doubt something was wrong with Shaw after his collision with Pateryn, just as it was obvious on Dec. 12 of 2016— when Shaw took a vicious check to the head from Boston Bruins defenceman Torrey Krug that knocked him out of action for a month.
“I saw his eyes rolling back and he just looked like he wasn’t there coming off the ice,” said one Canadiens player after Tuesday’s game.
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It was a morbid scene that sullied a gutsy 4-2 win for the Canadiens.
They had come off a demoralizing six-game road trip. A 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets Monday punctuated their 1-3-2 record over the last two weeks. And yet they managed to stifle a desperate Dallas team.
This was one worth celebrating, but concern over Shaw’s health was sobering.
“The doctors evaluated him and I’m told they’re continuing to evaluate him,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien. “But it’s clear that he’s banged up right now. They didn’t give me any indication as to whether or not it’s a concussion or what it is exactly.
“All I can say is that it was a heck of a collision and he was clearly shaken.”
Shaw also left the ice favouring his left leg. A knee injury on that side had recently kept him out of action from Jan. 13 to Feb. 28. And it’s impossible to fathom him being available to the Canadiens any time soon.
It’s been that kind of year for this team, with starting goaltender Carey Price currently sidelined by concussion; with No. 1 defenceman Shea Weber out until next training camp after Tuesday’s surgery to repair a tendon in his left foot was successfully completed; with 19-year-old defenceman Victor Mete done for the season after breaking a finger on Mar. 2; with captain Max Pacioretty unlikely to return after suffering a knee injury in that same game Mete got hurt in; with forward Ales Hemsky suffering post-concussion symptoms since Oct. 20; and with forward Phillip Danault (headaches) and defenceman David Schlemko (upper-body injury) day-to-day.
The losses have dominated the headlines this season. Between the injuries and the 42 games the Canadiens have dropped out of the 70 they’ve played, it’s been rough. A big win over Dallas would’ve been a welcome change in the conversation.
Unfortunately, the image of Shaw being carried to the Canadiens room, appearing as though he was on another planet, is the one that resonates.