The Montreal Canadiens are down in their series against the New York Rangers, but if head coach Michel Therrien has his way, the series will be tied by the end of the Sunday night. However, his tactics of ensuring that result may draw some attention from the National Hockey League (NHL), as he made some not-so-subtle threats to intentionally injure a New York player. Should he go down this risky path, it would all but ensure that the games played between the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens would be set at zero tolerance.
In a recent interview, Therrien stated that “we expect [Rangers forward] Derick Brassard to play and we know exactly where he’s injured. Hockey is a small world.” The implication is clear in that message, though it is not a new one. Therrien made a similar statement, almost word-for-word, in their first round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, when Ondrej Palat was returning to the Tampa Bay lineup. It was mostly glossed over then, as the Canadiens had that series well in hand, and Therrien was asked about Palat specifically. The same could not be said about his most recent statement.
Montreal trails New York in the series 2-1, and the first three games brought some questionable plays from both sides to the forefront. In Game One, Rangers forward Chris Kreider collided with Montreal goaltender Carey Price, injuring the goaltender and removing him from the series. Replays show that Kreider was tripped, making him unable to avoid the collision. However, Therrien and the Montreal players felt the collision could have been intentional. One such player who held this opinion was Brandon Prust, who drew some attention himself in Game Three. Early in that game, Prust delivered a late hit to New York forward Derek Stepan, breaking his jaw and earning Prust a conversation with the NHL brass. The league handed down a two-game suspension to Prust because of the hit, sending a message to both the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers that the risky game they are playing is being carefully watched.
Any incident in the series, from either side, will now have the added implication of revenge. Any questionable tactic employed by Montreal will be considered payback for Price. Likewise, any hit that walks the line between clean and dirty by New York will have to be considered revenge for Stepan’s injury. The NHL has no choice to take that stance, as the safety of the players will be their primary concern. After Therrien’s comments about Brassard, the league will no doubt be keeping a watchful eye on the remaining games in the series.
They may be doing so for good reason. While it is an unspoken acceptance that teams are going to use any advantage they are afforded to get ahead in a playoff series, including targeting previous injuries to recently injured players, this only applies when that tactic remains unspoken. Now that Therrien has made such comments public, it has forced the hand of the NHL to step in and ensure no leeway is given. This may be especially true of Michel Therrien, whose history of using these questionable tactics is well documented.
Ex-player George Laraque took to Facebook to comment about his use in such tactics when Therrien coached the Pittsburgh Penguins. Laraque recounted a game against Pittsburgh’s rival, the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers were running Pittsburgh goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, so Laraque was told by Therrien to run Marty Biron, Philadelphia’s goaltender at the time.
“I got fined by the league but it was obviously covered by our team…They never ran our goalie again! Live by the sword, die by the sword!” posted Laraque after Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The “Live by the sword, die by the sword” tactics also brings to mind another saying: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Both teams should be careful about resorting to that mentality, if not for the safety of their players, but for one simple reason: There is still another round to be played. While the Montreal and New York play their series in the East, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings are playing for a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals in the West. The risky game that the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers are playing may get the winner past this round, but may also leave them too injured to put up much of a fight against the winner of the West.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner