NEW YORK, N.Y. - In advance of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final, the coaches put on a show.
First Rangers coach Alain Vigneault fired back at the Canadiens, dismissing the assertion by Montreal counterpart Michel Therrien that there is a gentleman's agreement among coaches that they not watch the other team practise on off-days. And he said Therrien's comments that Montreal knows where Rangers forward Derick Brassard was hurting might come back to haunt the Habs coach.
"Let me put it this way. I just hope nothing happens to (Brassard) or Michel could be in trouble," a feisty Vigneault said.
The coaches' friendship, he suggested, was on hold.
"I think (Therrien) said prior to the series, for this two-week period, we're not really friends and he's probably right," Vigneault, whose smile seemed a little forced, said after the morning skate Sunday.
Vigneault was followed by a grinning Therrien, who looked to kill his rival coach with kindness.
"Alain Vigneault, first of all he's a good friend," said Therrien. "I'm privileged to be one of his friends. He's an important person in my life. He's one of the guys that pushed for me to get into pro hockey. And I will respect that.
"And over the years, we become great great friends. And I've got tons of respect for him. And he's a good coach. But right now we're battling for the same thing ... We've got to put our friendship aside, for what two weeks? But I'm sure when everything's done and over, as soon as get a chance to see each other, we're going to have a nice cold beer, like we did in the past.
"Nothing is going to change, but right now we're competing for the same goal. And that's normal."
Vigneault, renowned for his calmness, has had a bee under his bonnet in recent days.
In three games—the Rangers led 2-1 going into Game 4—there has been one surgery, two suspensions and a lot of talk. The Rangers coach seemed to have a chip on his shoulder Sunday.
He has lamented the officiating that led to a Game 3 flare-up which resulted in Brandon Prust breaking Derek Stepan's jaw and Rangers forward Dan Carcillo being suspended for jostling a linesman in the aftermath.
"We're trying to play whistle to whistle," Vigneault said. "We're trying to do the right things. I know in the hockey world we were painted as dishonest and dishonourable. We're not. We follow the rules. We follow the rules on the ice, and we will follow the rules off the ice."
The Habs have complained about the Rangers play, questioned some of their injuries and looked to get under their skin at every turn.
"Hockey is a beautiful game," Vigneault said. "It's done by great competitors on both teams. I wish a lot of this stuff didn't happen."
It has been a series where the two coaches have hardly said a word without considering their impact.
While Prust was awaiting a league sanction for his hit, Vigneault detailed the extent of Stepan's injury. After Carcillo asked that his 10-game ban be reviewed by commissioner Gary Bettman, Vigneault questioned the role of linesman Scott Driscoll in the play.
Therrien dismissed the suggestion that the Habs may be looking to capitalize on Brassard's return to the lineup from injury.
"He's a good player. There is no free pass. We're in the playoffs. But the intention is not to hurt the guy. I mean, come on," he said.
"We have to play Derick Brassard hard like we have to play all those New York Rangers hard with emotion and the best playoff hockey," he added.
Therrien said he was giving Vigneault some of his own medicine.
"I was saying the same thing Alain said about Carey Price, that he knew before, he knew what the injury was and that the hockey world it's a small world," he said. "It's true, it's a small world. So we knew exactly what happened to Derick Brassard. And by the way, he's a good player. He's an important player."
As for the Canadiens asking the Rangers assistant coaches to leave Montreal's practice Saturday, Vigneault responded Sunday by saying his staff was treated unfairly.
"There is no rule. There was no agreement between both teams. That is the exception not the rule."
If there is a deal, it's only because the opposing coach or GM calls to ask for it.
"Never happened," he added.
Vigneault called the Montreal behaviour regrettable, adding it was lucky the situation did not escalate.
Therrien stuck to his guns, although he did say perhaps there was a breakdown in communication.
"My staff and my coaching staff were under the impression that there is a gentleman's agreement. So probably there was a miscommunication. ... But from our standpoint, we still believe that there is a gentleman's agreement."
Asked about personnel, Vigneault said Stepan was recovering at home from surgery although he had visited his teammates Sunday morning. Dominic Moore was expected to move up and replace Stepan with J.T. Miller replacing Carcillo on the fourth line.
Therrien was asked zero questions about his lineup, with all the talk on the gamesmanship in the series. Michael Bournival is expected to replace Prust, who was suspended for two games for the Stepan hit.
NOTES: Sunday marked 20 years since Mark Messier, after promising the win, scored a natural hat trick to help the Rangers defeat the New Jersey Devils 4-2 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final.