One was laughing and smiling, the other was terse and frowning, each was fully engaged in playing his role, as one might expect in a building that’s just a block or two away from Broadway.
Maybe it’s the fact that the teams have only played once in the past five days, whatever the reason the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens have zestily engaged in the air war.
It’s not clear how this helps the Rangers, but there’s an unmistakable impression that exchanging barbs is something the Canadiens enjoy, and might even need in order to generate the appropriate level of emotion to perform.
Regardless, the Rangers are clearly not concerned about playing into the Habs’ hands ahead of their pivotal game four encounter on Sunday evening (8 p.m., CBC, RDS).
No one needs to be reminded of the stark difference between a series tied at 2-2, and one where the Rangers have a 3-1 stranglehold.
On Sunday, coach Alain Vigneault groused that his team has been unfairly painted as “dishonest and dishonourable” after some New York coaches were asked to leave Montreal’s practice on Saturday.
Vigneault insisted there is no gentlemen’s agreement preventing looking in on the other team, and attacked Montreal’s Michel Therrien for not calling him to set the ground rules.
He said “we were treated very unfairly,” and added the brouhaha was “uncalled for.”
“We’re lucky it didn’t escalate,” he said.
Montreal’s players intimated on Saturday that centre Derek Stepan, who suffered a broken jaw in game three, wasn’t as badly hurt as people think.
Vigneault fired back, as coaches are wont to do in protecting their guys.
“I can’t comment on their players saying Step's injury is fishy,” said Vigneault, commenting on Montreal forward Daniel Brière’s assertion that the circumstances surrounding Stepan’s broken jaw in game three (Stepan will not play Sunday). “We’re trying to play whistle to whistle. We’re trying to do the right things. I know in the hockey world we were painted as dishonest and dishonorable; we're not. We follow the rules. We follow the rules on the ice, and we will follow the rules off the ice.”
Vigneault also reacted tetchily to Therrien’s remark to the effect that the Habs knew “exactly where (centre Derick) Brassard is injured.”
“Let’s put it this way, I hope nothing happens to Brass. The player and Michel could be in trouble.”
Therrien laughed off the comments – the tightly-wound Habs’ coach really does appear to be having a terrific time in these playoffs.
“I was saying the same thing he 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,” Therrien said. “And by the way, he’s a good player. He’s an important player. That line got a lot of success, against the Penguins. He’s a good player. There is no free pass. We’re in the playoffs. But the intention is not to hurt the guy. I mean, come on.”
He couldn’t resist lobbing a little barb of his own, in reference to the Rangers’ treatment of his players.
“No one’s got a free pass. I don't think they gave a free pass to P.K. Subban, all the cheap shots that he got. I don't think they gave a free pass to (Brendan) Gallagher. But that's okay. It's the playoffs,” he said.
At the same time, Therrien also spoke glowingly of his friendship with Vigneault – the two met in the early 1990s as rivals in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and when Vigneault was appointed the Habs’ coach in 1997, he pushed hard for Therrien to be hired to coach the club’s farm team in Fredericton, N.B.
“He’s a good friend, and I'm privileged to be one of his friends. He’s an important person in my life. He's a guy that pushed for me to get into pro hockey, and I respect that. Over the years we became great, great friends, and I've got tons of respect for him, and he’s a good coach. But right now we're battling for the same thing. The same thing he wants to get to the Stanley Cup Final with his team, it's the same thing for me,” he said. “We’ve got to put our friendship aside for, what, two weeks? But I'm sure when everything's going to be done and everything's going to be over, and as soon as we get a chance to see each other, we're going to have a nice cold beer, like we did in the past, and nothing's going to change.”
The sniping, such as it is, doesn’t seem to extend to the players.
Rangers forward Martin St. Louis indicated that he didn’t pay any attention to the off-day verbal hijinks, “I had a baseball game to go to” (one of his kids was playing on Saturday).
Montreal forward Max Pacioretty said “I don’t know what was said . . . it’s all just noise, these games are too valuable to get caught up in something off the ice.”