NEW YORK -- It was his first shift following what we now know was a hit that caused a broken jaw. Derek Stepan was on the ice flying, and when an opportunity presented itself to line up Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin, he didn’t hesitate. He crushed him into the boards, a little bit of payback for the hit he took from Brandon Prust.
It was a good hit, the kind of physical play you like to see in the playoffs. But the Canadiens probably didn’t mind it. They didn’t mind Stepan’s visible anger as he left the ice to get examined by Rangers trainers. They didn’t mind the increased trash talk on the ice that happened after the Prust hit.
The Rangers were ticked and that’s just the way the Canadiens want this series to go.
“For sure, after that hit they were [ticked],” said Canadiens forward David Desharnais. “They get frustrated. They’re going to chirp. They’re going to try to retaliate after the whistle and stuff like that.”
If the hit wasn’t enough to get under New York’s skin, Montreal kept digging on Friday. The hit that should have been a major for interference, one that will lead to a suspension for Prust, one that will result in surgery for Stepan -- that one -- was perfectly fine in their opinion. Nothing dirty.
Not late at all, just part of the game.
“I thought it was a good hit,” Desharnais said. “You never want to injure somebody but he set the tone of the game.”
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien sprinkled in a little salt by comparing it to the Chris Kreider collision with Carey Price, when really the only comparison is that an important player ended up injured.
“[Prust’s] intention was not to hurt anyone. Like Kreider, his intention, even if he was going hard to the net and then laying Carey Price, I’m sure his intention was not to hurt Carey Price,” Therrien said. “It was a good hit. It was a hockey hit.”
The Canadiens came into this series flat. They came in emotionally hungover following their intense battle with the Bruins.
With that Prust hit, they arrived. They’re now emotionally invested in this series and are discovering that the Rangers, like the Bruins, can get distracted when things get chippy. At least, that’s what they believe.
“Yeah, of course,” Desharnais said. “You want to get under their skin. A win is the best way to get under their skin.”
According to Montreal's Lars Eller, before the series the Canadiens talked about how there’s not a natural rivalry between these Rangers and Canadiens. There wasn’t the built-in hatred they had with the Bruins in the previous round.
They’re a team that needs that hatred. They need that emotion.
Well, now they’ve got it. It might not be at the same level as the Bruins rivalry -- that takes years to develop -- but there’s now considerably more life in this series following the charged Game 3 at Madison Square Garden.
“In a way, you have to hate them. You have to hate them,” Eller said. “It shouldn’t be hard to get motivation for the conference finals, it is a little different. There’s no problem getting motivated now.”