Habs pull out verbal artillery in battle with Rangers

Alexei Emelin takes a shot during Canadiens practice at Madison Square Garden in New York on...

Alexei Emelin takes a shot during Canadiens practice at Madison Square Garden in New York on Saturday. (BEN PELOSSE/QMI Agency)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:07 PM ET

NEW YORK - They may be trailing the Eastern Conference final on the ice, but the Montreal Canadiens appear committed to winning the war of words.

Quite handily, it would seem.

With a second consecutive off day in the East final to spew venom, there was no choosing thoughts carefully on Saturday in advance of a big Game 4 vs. the New York Rangers.

In no particular order, various Habs players accused Rangers assistant coaches of spying, questioned the severity of forward Derek Stepan’s broken jaw and mocked Blueshirts coach Alain Vigneault for playing to the officials in his daily news conferences.

Now if the Habs can bring as much game to the ice as the gamesmanship off of it, we may be in for a heck of a series beginning with the next date, Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.

The Habs, of course, trail the best-of-seven affair 2-1 and hope the trend of visiting teams winning each of the first three continues in Game 4.

But as the usual bustle of a Saturday afternoon in Manhattan went on outside, the Habs went big on the bluster inside MSG, both during and after their practice.

The workout began with Montreal coach Michel Therrien barking at Rangers assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson for watching from the stands, a move considered taboo for off-day practices.

“It’s respect for coaches that want to make adjustments between games,” Therrien said. “There is a gentleman’s agreement between the two teams and the general managers that coaches are not allowed to attend practices between games.

“When we saw the assistant coaches there, we let them know.”

While not quite the NFL’s version of Spygate, which landed New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick with a $500,000 fine for stealing opposing coach’s signals, it added a little fire to the off-day proceedings.

And the Habs weren’t about to stop there, either.

Still simmering about losing big-bodied forward Brandon Prust to a two-game suspension for his late hit on Stepan early in Game 3, pint-sized Habs forward Brendan Gallagher wondered aloud about just how hurt the Rangers centre is.

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

(The Rangers may or may not have been playing games themselves when Vigneault said that Stepan was still at the hospital recovering from surgery and was “unlikely” to play in Game 4.)

We take you next to Daniel Briere’s stall in the MSG visitor’s dressing room. The Habs forward wasn’t fond of Vigneault being unclear about Stepan’s status, a day after announcing the broken jaw, a development that all but assured Prust was going to be suspended.

“It seems a little fishy to me, like a little bit of a game,” Briere said. “I think it’s all about trying to position himself with the referee.”

And for good measure, Briere added a verbal whack at Rangers defence Ryan McDonagh who he called one of the most vicious hackers in the league.

“Ryan McDonagh is a great defenceman, but I haven’t seen someone slash as much as he does probably since Chris Pronger played,” Briere said.

It’s all just talk, of course, though some of it is pretty compelling. And in general it’s a tactic the Canadiens have used to their advantage in the past, particularly in the upset of the Bruins in the previous round.

The difficulty, however, is that other than Daniel Carcillo now being banished for 10 games, the Rangers are generally a disciplined group on and off the ice. They have been dominant through much of the series, as the Habs have had little match for their speed and superior puck control.

“I look at our Game 3 and I thought we played better than we did in Game 2, different outcome,” said Vigneault, sounding anything but worried given that his team has trailed for mere minutes so far in this series. “We’ve got to find a way to finish some of our opportunities.

“Our group is definitely going into (Sunday’s) game feeling good about how we’re playing.”

As for the Habs — they’ll find out soon enough if talking a good game will help them even up the series and send it back to Montreal all tied up.

HIT WAS CLEAN, BUT LATE: PRUST

Other than the timing, Montreal Canadiens forward Brandon Prust believe the hit he laid on the Rangers Derek Stepan was a good one.

Other than the broken jaw Stepan suffered on the play early in the first period Thursday night, Prust figured he would be around for Game 4 and beyond.

Instead, the former Ranger must sit out two games thanks to a suspension handed down by the league on Friday.

“If there’s no injury I was thinking no games,” Prust said on Saturday. “Once I heard he had a broken jaw, I was thinking one, maybe two games.

“It was my first shift and emotions are going. I wanted to get out there and create contact. Unfortunately my timing was off.”

Prust said in his phone hearing, the league told him the hit was late by 0.8 seconds, an eternity at the speed the game is played at.

“It was late, but for me, my focus was on trying to make a good, clean body check and not leave my feet. My elbows (were) tucked and everything about the actual contact was clean. It was just late.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/longleysunsport​


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