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Those who witnessed it tell the story of the hockey brawl that forever altered the NHL

It looked for a while that the game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Ottawa Senators on March 5, 2004, might come and go without incident. That was a bit surprising because eight days earlier, Ottawa’s Martin Havlat whacked the Flyers’ Mark Recchi in the face with his stick. Afterward, heated words and insinuations flew. The Flyers were irate about the play and Havlat was suspended two games.

In the rematch, though, the first 58 minutes passed quietly as the Flyers built a multi-goal lead on the way to a 5-3 victory. But those last minutes were anything but quiet. And when it was over, officials tallied up a record number for penalty minutes in an NHL game (419) that still stands.

Another lasting outcome from that night: New league rules were implemented for the start of the 2005-06 season, the first after a lockout killed the 2004-05 season. Players who instigated a fight with fewer than five minutes to go were given a one-game suspension and the coaches of those players would be fined $10,000.

Twenty years later, fights in the waning minutes of games are almost non-existent. Here’s how it all went down.

Senators forward Martin Havlat: I had a forearm into Mark Recchi. I don’t think I hit his face, but I hit him for sure. I kind of lost it a little bit, so I got suspended for two games. My first game back after the suspension was of course in Philly. (Hitchcock) said someone would make me eat my lunch, right? I remember that quote.

Flyers forward John LeClair: That’s what started it, obviously. Nobody forgets that kind of stuff.

Flyers forward Mark Recchi: I remember Havlat got suspended, and they suspended him (two) games and we played them the (third). (League disciplinarian) Colin Campbell did a good job there.

Senators goalie Patrick Lalime: Esche was in the middle of it all. That’s when I said, ‘I’m going down there.’ And I didn’t care. I knew he was a tough guy. But I got rid of all my stuff because I didn’t want to be weighed down by my glove, blocker, and mask. And I knew I had to get his mask off.

Another wave of fights came at 18:45 of the third. Recchi fought with Ottawa’s Brian Smolinski, while LeClair and Wade Redden paired off. LeClair: Some of it was guys picking the wrong guys to dance with. So, all right, you’re going to do that, and the next shift up we’re going to do this.

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