Here’s my column on the clown show that the Rangers-Canadiens series became during the five days in which there was just one game. From The Journal News and Lohud.com:
By Rick Carpiniello
Pitch a tent over the Rangers-Montreal Canadiens Eastern Conference final, and cue up the calliope music. The circus is back at the Garden.
Playoff series often get sidetracked by drama, especially once there are injuries (three serious ones) or suspensions (two so far), and especially when there are more off-days than game days.
But the gamesmanship and suggestive comments in this series are beyond silly and stupid. And to be completely fair, the Rangers have taken the high road throughout.
On Saturday, the two teams practiced at the Garden in preparation for Game 4 Sunday night. Two suspended players — Daniel Carcillo, who got 10 games and is appealing it, and Brandon Prust, who should be thanking his lucky stars that he only got two games — practiced. So did Derick Brassard, who was knocked out with what appeared to be a shoulder injury but could possibly be something else, on a late high hit by Mike Weaver in Game 1.
Brassard told the media throng that he will play Sunday, which was news to coach Alain Vigneault, who seemed OK with it then.
During the Habs’ practice, smug coach Michel Therrien noticed Rangers assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson and some staffers in the stands. He shooed them away. But he didn’t dare say a peep to Rangers GM Glen Sather, who remained in his seat almost daring Therrien. Afterward, Therrien claimed the Rangers had breached some “gentlemen’s agreement,” even though when Sather and Habs counterpart Marc Bergevin had their pre-series pow-wow, no such agreement was discussed.
Therrien (like Vigneault) tends to give better sound bites in the French portion of his pressers. He said, in his native tongue, “We expect Derick Brassard to play and we know exactly where he’s injured.”
Sounds like a threat, no? That’s not all.
Daniel Briere — three-times-suspended player, once for hitting the Islanders’ Frans Nielsen in the mouth with a baseball swing of his stick on a faceoff (an incident in which Carcillo, then a Philadelphia teammate, played a part) — said he hasn’t seen a defenseman who slashes as much as the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh since Chris Pronger.
Granted, McDonagh got away with a slash on Brendan Gallagher in Game 3. The rest is a fairly major exaggeration.
And while Vigneault said that Stepan was doubtful for Game 4 because he was still, as of noontime Saturday, in the hospital recovering from surgery to repair a broken jaw from the unpenalized Prust head shot, the Canadiens doubted that. They seem to think he will play.
“He got up yapping and yelling,” Gallagher said about the Thursday incident. “I’m sure the jaw doesn’t hurt too much.”
The Rangers, by and large, thought Prust got off lightly. That included McDonagh, who added that he would have rather had the two- or four- or five-minute power play the Rangers didn’t get than the suspension.
Then, to top the day, Prust talked about how he had no intent to injure his former Rangers teammate and friend, Stepan, that he was just trying to set a physical tone on his first shift of the game — this after Prust went after Chris Kreider, whose slide into goalie Carey Price in Game 1 knocked the Habs’ No. 1 out of the series. Prust claimed Kreider “accidentally on purpose” took out Price, and that NHL players know exactly “how to fall.”
Which makes it difficult to believe the shot at Stepan didn’t have some malice behind it. Whatever, the NHL let him off the hook by failing to prosecute the head shot, instead calling it a late-hit interference. Therrien compared it, on Friday, to the Kreider collision. Prust said “it’s on me” that the hit was indeed late. He was asked about going from a very popular Ranger to the Garden’s public enemy.
“I’m not too worried,” he said. “They’re not my fans anymore. I’m in Montreal now and those are my fans. That’s kind of who I care about.”
Oh, yeah, in other news: The Rangers lead the series, 2-1.
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL NOTEBOOK:
Carcillo appeals his suspension.
Rangers winger Daniel Carcillo has appealed his 10-game suspension for physical abuse against linesman Scott Driscoll Thursday night, and asked NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to review it.
Carcillo, who practiced Saturday, is not likely to be eligible to play in Game 4 Sunday night, or until the review takes place. It is possible the suspension will be reduced.
Carcillo declined to comment Saturday. He will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and is not likely to be coming back to the Rangers.
“My biggest disappointment in the whole thing is probably what’s happening to Dan Carcillo,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “At the end of the day, if the right call is made on the ice (on the Brandon Prust hit on Derek Stepan), that whole situation doesn’t happen. Dan didn’t have a penalty on that (retaliatory hit on Prust later). There was no penalty there.
“I still don’t understand why Scott grabbed him in that fashion. All Scott had to do was tell him — Dan didn’t know he had a penalty. Just, ‘Can you come to the box with me? Here, you have a penalty,’ and it would have been over. In that split moment of grabbing him like that, obviously, it’s inexcusable what Dan did, but those situations or incidences put one after the other leads to a young gentleman’s career moving forward might be very tough here.”
Miller time? Assuming Stepan (still hospitalized after surgery on his broken jaw as of noontime Saturday, according to Vigneault) is out and Derick Brassard returns, and Carcillo is unavailable, rookie J.T. Miller will likely play in Game 4.
The Canadiens have some decisions to make to replace Prust, too. Michael Bournival appeared to be practicing in Prust’s spot Saturday.
Sorry, Step: Prust, a friend and ex-teammate of Stepan’s, said he didn’t realize that Stepan was hurt until, like most, he heard the news Friday morning. Prust said he sent Stepan a text message.
“I told him I feel awful,” Prust said. “I didn’t want to injure anybody, especially a friend of mine. … I hope he recovers well.”
Asked if Stepan had responded, Prust said, “Yeah, it was short.”
Photo by the Associated Press.