NEW YORK - New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault would prefer to go with the sticks and stones approach of dealing with Sunday’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final.
And he’ll leave the words to the Montreal Canadiens.
A fired-up Vigneault lashed out at the Habs and the litany of allegations the Montreal players and coaching staff fired at the Rangers on Saturday.
“I know in the hockey world, we were painted as dishonest and dishonorable,” Vigneault said following his team’s game-day skate at Madison Square Garden. “We’re not. We follow the rules. We follow the rules on the ice and we follow the rules off the ice.”
With two off days since the Habs scored a 3-2 overtime win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final on Thursday night, bad blood has been spilling between the Original Six opponents. A win by Montreal, however, would even the best-of-seven series at two games apiece and continue the trend of the home team losing each contest.
Vigneault was livid about Montreal counterpart Michel Therrien ripping the Rangers organization for having assistant coaches watch Saturday’s practice at MSG. Therrien stopped just short of accusing the Rangers of cheating, saying there is a gentlemen’s agreement not to watch the opposition at work.
“We were treated very unfairly yesterday,” he said. “There was no rule. 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. That never happened.
“What happened yesterday was uncalled for. Very regrettable. It’s the National Hockey League. With that type of behaviour, we’re lucky the situation didn’t escalate.”
Therrien didn’t back down from his view following the Canadiens skate and maintained his team is not involved in any skulduggery.
“We are disciplined,” Therrien said. “There is a reason we are here — we respect the game.”
Of course, in the next breath, the Montreal coach took a swipe at the Rangers, pointing out “all the cheap shots” New York players have been sending PK Subban’s way.
Vigneault, meanwhile, was also perturbed at accusations from several Montreal players that forward Derek Stepan’s jaw wasn’t broken. That play in Game 3 resulted in a two-game suspension to the Habs’ Brandon Prust.
“He had a broken jaw and it just got operated on,” Vigneault said. “I can’t comment on another player saying the injury is fishy.”
Stepan will not be in the lineup for Game 4 but forward Derek Brassard, who was injured earlier in the post season, will return for the Rangers.
And, after a long week in which there were just two games since Monday, you get the feeling both sides are anxious to return to action. While the Canadiens were on the ropes after losing their first two games at home, they realize they have to remain disciplined.
“People talk about the noise,” said Habs winger Max Pacioretty, who has six points in his past six games. “This team runs into trouble when we worry about what we can’t control.”
The Rangers have played the same way, emphasizing discipline all season, and despite the crazy week, it would be a surprise to see them veer from that approach on Sunday night.
“I don’t see them losing their heads and running around taking dumb penalties,” Montreal defenceman Josh Gorges said.
Therrien and Vigneault are good pals away from the rink, though the friendship is currently on a two-week hiatus.
Expect it to pick up again this summer over a cold beverage, however.
“I’m sure when everything’s done and as soon as we get a chance to see each other, we’re going to have a nice, cold beer,” Therrien said. “Nothing’s going to change.
“But right now we’re competing for the same goal. That’s normal. It doesn’t mean that I have no respect for him. He’s one of the reasons the Rangers are here, because he’s a good coach.”
Daniel Briere’s goal to force overtime in Game 3 tied him with Henrik Zetterberg for fifth in career playoff points among active players ... The Rangers, led by their stellar goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, have allowed two goals or fewer in 12 of 17 playoff games this spring and four of the past five ... It was 20 years ago today that after guaranteeing a win, then Rangers captain Mark Messier scored a natural hat trick as the Rangers defeated New Jersey in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final.