NEW YORK -- So, if you are keeping score at home, there have been three games, two suspensions, one broken jaw and a veritable war of words in the action leading up to Sunday's Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals at Madison Square Garden.
Tensions between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens escalated in Game 3 after Habs forward Brandon Prust rocked former teammate Derek Stepan with a late hit that broke Stepan's jaw and left Prust with a two-game suspension.
The bad blood ratcheted up even more Saturday, when Montreal coach Michel Therrien called out Rangers assistant coaches Ulf Samuelsson and Jerry Dineen for watching the Canadiens' practice at MSG. He gestured at Samuelsson and Dineen to leave and was not pleased with what he perceived as an egregious breach of playoff hockey etiquette.
"There is always a gentleman's agreement between two teams and the general manager that coaches are not allowed to attend practices between games," Therrien explained. "Game day is different. So when we saw those assistant coaches there -- they were not supposed to be there -- we let them know."
Therrien went on to explain the agreement and cited it as a longstanding practice among hockey's coaching fraternity.
"It's respect for coaches that want to make adjustments between games," said Therrien, who is expected to go with a different lineup for Game 4 on Sunday. "It's always been like that and that's the way it is."
But one Rangers source disputed this aforementioned pact, and said New York never made such arrangements. The source told ESPNNewYork.com that general manager Glen Sather approached Habs GM Marc Bergevin after practice to discuss as much. And while the two executives may have resolved the issue diplomatically, the sniping between the two sides continues.
New York has limited the return sniping, keeping their comments mostly about Prust and the officiating.
Montreal veteran center Daniel Briere called coach Alain Vigneault's unwillingness to give an update on Stepan's availability for Game 4 "fishy" and noted the Rangers continued complaints that they did not receive a power play after Prust's hit, which went unpenalized at the time of play but was later deemed as interference.
Earlier in the day, Vigneault lamented the officiating, blasting the refs again for missing Prust's penalty and for the resulting events that followed, including Daniel Carcillo's altercation with NHL linesman Steve Driscoll that earned the gritty forward a 10-game suspension.
"I think it seems a little fishy to me," Briere said after the team's practice Saturday afternoon. "It seems like a little bit of a game."
Briere's teammate Brendan Gallagher said he wouldn't be surprised if Stepan plays on Sunday.
"He got up and he was yapping and yelling [after the play]," Gallagher said. "So, I'm sure the jaw isn't hurting too much."
"Ryan McDonagh's a great defenseman, but I haven't seen anyone slash as much as he has since Chris Pronger," Briere said. "It goes both ways and it's part of the game and it happens. But I think it's all about trying to position himself towards the referee."
Therrien also took what appeared to be a jab at Vigneault when he was asked, in French, about Derick Brassard. Therrien said the Habs know what exactly Brassard's injury is and said, "It's a small world."
Earlier in the series, Vigneault said the Rangers had an "inkling" that 24-year-old Dustin Tokarski was playing in Game 2 in the wake of the series-ending injury to Carey Price. When Vigneault was asked how the Rangers had that "inkling," he said, "Hockey's a small world."