The Canadiens and Rangers play a crucial game Sunday night in their Eastern Conference final (8 p.m., CBC, RDS, TSN Radio 690), but it was off-ice gamesmanship and playoff rhetoric that dominated the coaches press conferences after the morning skates.
The Canadiens coaching staff had objected on Saturday when members of the Rangers staff watched their practice from the stands at Madison Square Garden. The Canadiens argument was that there’s a gentleman’s agreement that coaches don’t watch opposing teams practices in between game days.
“We were treated very unfairly yesterday,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Sunday morning when asked about the incident.
“There is no rule,” Vigneault said.
“There was no agreement between both teams. That is the exception not the rule. I’ve been asked in the past to do this on a couple of occasions. Usually the coach calls me or the GM calls the GM—never happened. What happened yesterday was uncalled for. Without a doubt my staff handled it with a lot of class, just like our team plays whistle to whistle. Don’t get involved with the other stuff. Very regrettable this is the National Hockey League and that type of behaviour, we’re lucky it didn’t escalate.”
There was probably miscommunication, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said after the Canadiens’ optional skate on Sunday.
“But from our standpoint, we still believe that there is a gentleman’s agreement,” Therrien said.
Vigneault was also asked about Therrien’s comment on Saturday that the Canadiens know exactly where Rangers forward Derick Brassard was injured because hockey is a small world.
Asked if he saw that as threatening in any way, Vigneault said: “Well, let me put it this way: I just hope that nothing happens to Brass, the player, and Michel could be in trouble.”
Said Therrien: “I was saying the same thing we said about Carey Price, that they knew before we knew his injuries, and in the hockey world it’s a small world. It’s a small world, so we knew exactly what happened to Derick Brassard. And by the way, he’s a good player. He’s an important player. That line had a lot of success, against the Penguins … There is no free pass. We’re in the playoffs.
“But the intention is not to hurt the guy. I mean, come on. There is
no hockey player that’s going to go on the ice. There is no hockey coach
going to ask to hurt the player. But you have to play him hard. We have
to play Derick Brassard hard like we have to play all those New York
Rangers hard with emotion, but that’s playoff hockey.”
Therrien also said he has a ton of respect for Vigneault and is privileged to be one of his friends.
“But right now we’re battling for the same thing,” Therrien said. “We’ve got to put our friendship aside for, what, two weeks?”
Players don’t pay attention to the off-ice stuff, Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges said.
“Our job is to get ourselves prepared to play the game on the ice,” he said. “There’s always things that go on off the ice.
“You can’t get yourself caught up in it, distracted by it. Our job is to go out there and try to get a win.”
The Canadiens head into Game 4 Sunday with the chance of evening the best-of-seven series. The Rangers, who hold a 2-1 lead, have a chance to make it a daunting gap with a win Sunday.
“I think there’s still lots of areas (to improve),” Gorges said.
“This team comes at you hard. And they play a hard in-your-face style of game. So I think we still have to do a better job of supporting the puck, winning some of those battles along the boards and playing a little bit more in the offensive zone. I think if we can do that we give ourselves a better chance to come out with a win.”
Derek Stepan, who suffered a broken jaw in Game 3, wasn’t on the ice at the Rangers’ morning skate. He stopped by quickly to say ‘hi’ to his teammates and is recovering at home, Vigneault said. “There is no timetable at this time,” said Vigneault, who confirmed Stepan won’t play Sunday.
But Brassard should be back in the Rangers lineup.
“I’d say right now he’s a game-time decision and (it’s) looking good if I was a betting man,” Vigneault said, smiling.
You can listen to Therrien’s press conference here:
You can listen to Vigneault’s press conference here:
You can watch what Max Pacioretty had to say here:
You can watch what Martin St. Louis had to say after the Rangers morning skate here:
(Video: Brenda Branswell)