MSG fans will boo ... as in Boudreau

Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau speaks with the media at the Bell Centre in Montreal on March...

Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau speaks with the media at the Bell Centre in Montreal on March 15, 2011. (ERIC BOLTE/QMI Agency)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:36 PM ET

NEW YORK - There was a time when NHL players visiting the Big Apple needed only to flare their nostrils to realize that the circus had recently vacated Madison Square Garden.

It seems the wafting stench of elephants and their accompanying, ah, souvenirs, remains behind long after they leave.

With that in mind, Bruce Boudreau would not be the first puckhead to insinuate that something stinks at the self-proclaimed World's Most Famous Arena.

In some respects, the Washington Capitals coach was right on the mark with his highly publicized criticism Monday of MSG. Yes, the benches are cramped.

So, too, is the visitors dressing room, although to be fair the facilities for opposing teams at Washington's Verizon Center also resemble a glorified broom closet.

Deep down, Boudreau must know an $850-million US renovation of the Garden has started in an attempt to modernize the NHL's oldest arena.

The suspicion is that Boudreau's public shot at MSG was an attempt to put the spotlight on himself and off his Washington Capitals players, who lost 3-2 to the Rangers in Game 3 Sunday of this best-of-seven first-round series. With his Caps up in the series by a 2-1 margin, maybe he is using everything in his repertoire to keep his players from losing the confidence they built up when they won the first two games.

Where Boudreau might be second-guessed, however, is taking a jab at Ranger fans by questioning how loud -- or, more specifically, how quiet -- they are.

Boudreau was right when he said the Verizon Center was louder than MSG. At least that has been the case through three games of this series.

But in a big-picture sense, MSG can be one of the most raucous barns in the league. You can expect that to be the case Wednesday for Game 4 when the New York throng will be at its screaming best, looking to respond to Boudreau's slag.

You have to understand New Yorkers. They don't respond well to criticism of one of their own.

Remember in the cult film Animal House when military zealot Doug Niedermayer is verbally ripping into the porcine freshman known as Flounder? Two onlooking Animal House seniors respond with the observation: "He can't do that to one of our recruits ... Only WE can do that to one of our recruits!"

The same goes for the fine citizens of New York. If they want to carve each other, fine, bring it. But should an outsider like Boudreau do it, well, they band together in a united front against their attacker.

Besides, if Boudreau thinks MSG lacks noise, he should try spending 41 home dates at the Air Canada Centre, the quietest building in the league.

Just ask former Maple Leaf Bryan McCabe. On many occasions the loudest the Toronto arena has been for hockey took place when the fans were booing him, as a Leaf or as an opponent.

"(MSG) is great. We love it," McCabe said Tuesday afternoon. "It's a little different. Our fans are a little wilder. More so than Toronto. I love playing here."

Perhaps the best expert on MSG atmosphere is goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Easily the team's best and most popular player, he often is greeted by 17,000 chants of "Hen-reeek, Hen-reeek" the moment he steps on the ice for the pre-game skate, a call that usually is repeated at least a dozen times over the course of a Manhattan hockey evening.

"Last game was a great feeling to go out there," he said. "Already in warmups it was fun. After the game, too, you could really feel the excitement."

Will Boudreau's comments result in the MSG volume being cranked up even more come Wednesday?

"We'll see," Lundqvist said with a laugh. "Hey, they're loud enough for us already."

Whatever happens, count on hockey's version of the circus being on display the moment Boudreau steps behind his cramped MSG bench Wednesday night.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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