VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks knew what was coming as soon as head coach John Torotorella read out the starting lineups.
Calgary Flames counterpart Bob Hartley was sending out his fourth line and Tortorella was going to do likewise.
Two seconds into Saturday’s game, all hell broke loose.
Chris Higgins scored in the fifth round of the shootout on a night that featured a nasty line brawl off the opening faceoff as the Canucks defeated the Flames 3-2.
Higgins beat Flames goalie Karri Ramo through the five-hole to help Vancouver snap a three-game losing streak, but all anyone was talking about afterwards was the donnybrook right after puck drop.
“Torts came in and told us that they’re starting those idiots over there so we’re going to match that and go with it,” said Canucks tough guy Tom Sestito. “I knew right off the hop (Brian) McGrattan was going to come after me.”
Tortorella made no apologies for matching the Flames’ muscle with his own.
“I see the starting lineup and I know the other guy across the bench and it’s easy for people to say ’Well put the Sedins out there and it’s deflated.’ I can’t put our players at risk like that,” he said. “With the lineup that (Hartley) had, I am not going to put those types of players at risk, and that’s what ensues.
“I’m not proud of it. I’ve apologized to every one of the players involved in it. I don’t feel great about it at all.”
When the dust settled, Canucks forwards Dale Weise and Kellan Lain — who was making his NHL debut — along with defencemen Kevin Bieksa and Jason Garrison were given fighting majors and game misconducts. The same went for Calgary forwards Kevin Westgarth and Blair Jones, as well as defencemen Ladislav Smid and Chris Butler.
“It shouldn’t be in the game, that stuff,” said Tortorella. “I don’t want it in the game, but I have to protect my team, too. So all the pundits and all the people pissing and moaning about it, they don’t have a clue what a locker-room’s about and they don’t understand the whole circumstance involved in that type of situation.”
Sestito and McGrattan also got fighting majors, plus ten minute misconducts, with latter suffering a cut that splattered blood all over the ice.
“I see Westgarth going in for a draw. I don’t think the guy can play (defensive) zone coverage if he wanted to so I know he’s not playing centre,” said Sestito.
“I knew it was coming.”
Tortorella screamed at Hartley from the bench, clearly furious that his counterpart put out Calgary’s tough guys in a period that saw scrums after almost every whistle and a total of 188 minutes in penalties.
Hartley said he started his fourth line to create some energy.
“Those guys are playing well for us. They got us a goal last game. We’re not scoring many goals,” said Hartley, whose team has lost 10 of its last 12. “We had zero intentions there. Those guys are playing hard for us. As far as I know they were the home team. They had the luxury to put whoever they wanted on the ice.
“He decided who he puts on. It is what it is.”
Tortorella was then caught by television cameras trying to get into the Calgary locker-room between periods, but declined to comment on that incident.
“I lifted my head and there he was,” said Hartley. “I just don’t understand. I got out of there. I don’t need to get suspended or fined. There is nothing to settle there. I just don’t understand what was going on.”
In terms of the actual game, Ryan Kesler had a goal and an assist, and Yannick Weber also scored in regulation for the Canucks (25-16-9), who got 31 saves from Roberto Luongo in his return from injury.
“It was a bizarre start to the game and kind of carried over for a little bit,” said Higgins.
“I thought we stayed with it mentally. It was a tough game to stay with it but we did a great job.”
Mark Giordano and Matt Stajan scored for the Flames (16-26-7), who got 31 saves from Ramo.
“I am unbelievably proud of my guys. They battled hard,” said Hartley. “We played 10 minutes with three defencemen. We were even more short than the Canucks and we kept battling.
“I thought we played well enough to win that game.”