For 48 hours prior to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Rangers and Canadiens engaged in an exceptionally entertaining war of words.
“I wish a lot of this stuff didn’t happen,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said, following the Rangers’ morning skate Sunday at the Garden. “This other ‘fla, fla’ stuff, you have to ask them.”
The “fla, fla stuff” Vigneault referred to were three incidents during and after the Canadiens practice at the Garden Saturday. Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien demanded Rangers assistant Ulf Samuelsson leave Montreal’s practice session, later alleging there was a “gentlemen’s agreement” between the two organizations.
Vigneault denied such an arrangement was in place.
“We were treated very unfairly yesterday. There is no rule. There was no agreement between both teams,” Vigneault said. “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 [in this case]. What happened yesterday was uncalled for. Without a doubt, my staff handled it with a lot of class, just like our team — play whistle to whistle, don’t get involved with the other stuff. We’re very credible. This is the National Hockey League, and that type of behavior, we’re lucky it didn’t escalate.”
When asked if there was a miscommunication between the two organizations regarding the gentlemen’s agreement during his media availability after the Canadiens’ morning skate Sunday, Therrien indicated that may be the case.
“[Myself] and my coaching staff, [we] were under the impression that there is a gentleman’s agreement,” Therrien said. “I don’t talk to coaches. [These are] things the GM talks about. But from our standpoint, we still believe that there is a gentleman’s agreement.”
The mix-up only added to Vigneault’s irritation with the Canadiens.
Following Saturday’s practice, Danny Briere and Brendan Gallagher questioned the severity of Derek Stepan’s broken jaw, and Therrien told French-speaking reporters the Canadiens knew where Rangers center Derick Brassard was injured.
Brassard has missed Games 2 and 3 after a hit from Canadiens defenseman Mike Weaver in Game 1. On Sunday, Therrien praised Brassard as a player, but noted there are “no free passes” in the playoffs, and his team finishes checks.
According to Vigneault, there is “no timetable” for Stepan’s return — he visited the Rangers Sunday morning after having surgery Friday — and Brassard is a “game-time decision.” Brassard declared himself fully healthy and able to play after the Rangers’ practice Saturday.
“If you ask me about Step, he’s got a broken jaw that just got operated on,” Vigneault said. “I answered about the incident [Saturday]. I can’t comment on their players saying Step’s injury is fishy. We’re trying to play whistle to whistle. We’re trying to do the right things. I know in the hockey world we were painted as dishonest and dishonorable. We’re not. We follow the rules. We follow the rules on the ice, and we will follow the rules off the ice.
“I hope nothing happens to Brass, and Michel could be in trouble.”
While Vigneault made no effort to hide his disdain for the extracurriculars, Therrien stressed Sunday the two coaches are friends and will remain so. But the Eastern Conference finals has put their relationship on hold.
“I’m privileged to be one of his friends,” Therrien said. “He’s an important person in my life. He’s a guy that pushed for me to get into pro hockey, and I respect that. Over the years we became great, great friends, and I’ve got tons of respect for him, and he’s a good coach.
“We’ve got to put our friendship aside for, what, two weeks? But I’m sure when everything’s going to be done and everything’s going to be over, and as soon as we get a chance to see each other, we’re going to have a nice cold beer, like we did in the past, and nothing’s going to change.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.