Canadiens show no remorse for Prust hit on Stepan

Montreal Canadiens forward Brandon Prust fights New York Rangers forward Derek Dorsett during Game...

Montreal Canadiens forward Brandon Prust fights New York Rangers forward Derek Dorsett during Game 3 of the NHL Eastern Conference final at Madison Square Garden in New York, May 22, 2014. (BEN PELOSSE/QMI Agency)

Rob Longley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:37 PM ET

NEW YORK - The Montreal Canadiens weren’t about to put it so brazenly, but is it clear they are feeling no guilt for taking hockey justice into their own hands.

Not that there wasn’t a price to be paid for doing so.

Welcome to the Eastern Conference final where tempers are on high alert and the emotions between the Habs and New York Rangers have resulted in key injuries and suspensions for both participants.

The Rangers, livid in the early stages of Game 3 when centre Derek Stepan was clocked with a late open-ice hit by the Habs’ Brandon Prust, were boiling over on Friday when their valuable centre was having surgery to prepare a broken jaw.

The Rangers got a measure of satisfaction later in the day when the league applied its own version of the law by slapping Prust with a two-game suspension. But in the Canadiens camp, there was minimal remorse of the injury to Stepan, not with memories still vivid of the takeout of Carey Price by Rangers forward Chris Kreider in Game 1.

“You know what, if there is a team that can understand the loss of a player, it’s us,” Montreal coach Michel Therrien said on an off day for both teams as the series doesn’t resume until Game 4 on Sunday.

“We lost Carey Price in the first game of the series and we felt frustrated at the time. We’re still frustrated not having our goalie, our No. 1 most important player.”

The Rangers are frustrated as well, especially with the likely loss for the short-term anyway of Stepan, who with 11 points is second in team playoff scoring. Despite the hit, Stepan returned to Thursday’s game after X-rays came up negative. But when the pain persisted the following morning, further tests were taken leading to mid-day surgery.

Though the injury was bad enough, New York coach Alan Vigneault sounded even more disgusted that all four officials at Madison Square Garden missed the collision in which Prust was a good second late in clocking Stepan.

“(It was a) late hit, everything that you want to get out of the game,” Vigneault said

“What saddens me about the hit is if the call is made on the ice, we’re on a five-minute power play.”

The Rangers eventually did score first in the game, but even if it was for dubious reasons, the big hit certainly fired up the Habs and riled up the Rangers.

Before the period was over, Daniel Carcillo nailed Prust from behind and then was ejected for shoving a linesman. That earned the Rangers pest a 10-game suspension, putting Vigneault down two of his starting 12 forwards heading into Game 4.

It was clear from the outset on Thursday that Montreal’s mission was to bring some emotion to the series after dropping the first two games at home. The strategy worked well against the Bruins in the previous round as the regular-season champs got increasingly frustrated with the Habs’ antics, often responding with hits and chatter after the whistle.

Other than the broken jaw part, no one on the Montreal side was apologizing for the Prust hit, however, a rocking blow that happened at the 2:45 mark of the opening period.

“We lost Price for the series,” Habs forward David Desharnais said on Friday. “Prust went out there and wanted to set the tone. You never want to see a guy get injured like that, but we’re fighting for our lives out there. We knew we could get under their skin. You want to go out there and respect your opponent, but you want to play on the edge as much as you can.”

The Canadiens believe they have mastered that fine line by staying away from the funny business during stoppages in play. It would have been easy to come unglued after Price was nailed in the second period of Game 1, but rather than chase down Kreider, the Habs kept it cool until Prust’s thunderous hit in their 3-2 overtime win on Thursday.

“We’re smart enough to know that the best revenge is to score more goals than them and win the series,” Habs defenceman Lars Eller said. “That’s the approach we have. Nobody’s skating around trying to take Kreider’s head off. The best thing we can do for Price is win this series and get him back for the final.”

The best thing for the Rangers can do, meanwhile, is to turn the cheek against a Canadiens team that can make it difficult to do so.

BATTLE TO THE END

One run over goalie. One broken jaw. Two suspended players. And plenty of bad blood.

The Eastern Conference final may have started off on the tame side, but now that the combatants have settled into an ornery state, expect a battle to the conclusion.

After Montreal’s 3-2 overtime win over the Rangers in Game 3, both teams are feeling the anger level grow and their bench strength diminish.

The Rangers will be without suspended forward Daniel Carcillo for 10 games to suspension and Derek Stepan for an undisclosed term because of a broken jaw. The Habs, meanwhile, are without Brandon Prust for the next two for his hit that broke Stepan’s jaw and lost Carey Price for the entire series in Game 1.

“Obviously every game has its moments,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said on Friday. “Every game has incidents where sometimes the blood can boil from one side to the other.”


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