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Montreal Canadiens' Brandon Prust yells after fighting during the first period of Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers on May 22 in New York. (Seth Wenig/AP)
Montreal Canadiens' Brandon Prust yells after fighting during the first period of Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers on May 22 in New York. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Habs cry foul over Rangers’ gamesmanship Add to ...

Five days with only one game played have given the Eastern Conference finalists a good chance to get to know one another.

And dislike one another.

There may not have been much of a rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers coming into this series, but there’s certainly an ugly one brewing now, with a host of odd clashes creating tension heading into Sunday’s Game 4.

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The list of budding controversies multiplied quickly on Saturday at practice, beginning with Rangers assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson getting chased out of the Madison Square Garden stands by Canadiens coach Michel Therrien.

Shortly thereafter, Rangers GM Glen Sather sauntered into the rink and took a seat high in the lower bowl for the rest of the skate.

Afterward, Therrien explained there was a “gentlemen’s agreement” in the playoffs not to watch the opposition’s off-day practices – something that was apparently news to the Rangers.

“There is always a gentlemen’s agreement between two teams and the general manager that coaches are not allowed to attend practices between games,” Therrien said. “ Game day is different. So when we saw those assistant coaches there, they were not supposed to be there, so we let them know.”

Asked why the agreement exists, Therrien responded “it’s respect for coaches that want to make adjustments between games.”

“It's always been like that,” he added.

The Canadiens players then only added to the heat shortly after practice when they questioned the circumstances around an injury to Rangers centre Derek Stepan, who needed surgery for a broken jaw after taking a hit from Brandon Prust early in Game 3.

Because Stepan played the rest of the game after the hit, several Habs felt the injury talk was more gamesmanship from the Rangers – gamesmanship that paid off with a two-game suspension to Prust on Friday.

While coach Alain Vigneault vaguely said Stepan was doubtful to play Sunday, Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher was predicting just the opposite.

“He got up and was yapping and yelling, so I don't think the jaw was hurting too much,” Gallagher said. “We’re 100 per cent expecting him to play. I’ve seen some broken jaws – usually you can’t talk too much.”

“It seems a little fishy to me,” Daniel Briere said in reference to Vigneault’s limited update over Stepan’s availability. “It seems like a game.”

Briere also offered a complaint about the Rangers top defenceman Ryan McDonagh, saying he hadn’t “seen a guy slash this much since Chris Pronger.”

The Rangers skated two hours earlier than Montreal and weren’t attempting to poke the bear in nearly the same way, but that could change on Sunday when word filters out over what was said.

Canadiens captain Brian Gionta called the building war of words all part of being in the postseason.

“The passion and the intensity of the games just breeds that kind of rivalry,” he said.

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