The New York Rangers lead the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals. While playoff hockey is always intense, this series got a whole lot nastier when Montreal forward Brandon Prust injured Derek Stepan with a dangerous blow to the head while Stepan wasn’t looking.
Prust didn’t receive a penalty after the hit but could face a suspension. Whatever happens, Prust’s hit has lit a fire underneath this series.
The series has been intensified as a result of injured players. Prust and the Canadiens have had it out for Rangers forward Chris Kreider after he was involved in the play that hurt Montreal goalie Carey Price. Prust received a 10-minute misconduct in Game 1 when he went after Kreider after a play.
The same type of reaction has come from the Rangers in wake of Stepan’s broken jaw he suffered from the Prust hit. Stepan is now out indefinitely. Derek Dorsett fought Prust just minutes after the Stepan injury, and it’s only going to get nastier from here.
The Prust hit was certainly an alarming play that has ignited a fire in this series. The two teams have never liked each other, but now there’s another reason to hate one another.
Price’s injury occurred on a tough play that had Kreider driving the net to score as he often does. Unfortunately he lost his balance and it resulted in a knee injury for Price. Not to vindicate Kreider’s play, but he obviously wasn’t trying to hurt anybody.
The situation with Prust and Stepan is much different. There’s no place in hockey for the cheap shot Prust delivered. He’s known as a fourth-line enforcer, but his hit on Stepan was flat out dangerous.
Prust might not even play next game if he gets suspended, but the Rangers will look to establish a physical presence and get some big hits on the Canadiens. Prust probably deserves a suspension of some sort, but at this point Stepan missing time is more important.
Daniel Carcillo certainly wanted a piece of Prust after the Stepan injury. He was originally called for charging against Prust directly before Prust and Dorsett fought. Carcillo would have liked to have been the one to scrap with Prust, but Dorsett beat him to it. Carcillo was given a game misconduct for an altercation with a referee, but he might see the lineup again in Game 4. If Carcillo does play, he’ll be the focal point of New York’s hitting game.
Of course, surrounding all of this is still a conference final with a ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals on the line. Both teams know what’s at stake, and the whole series got turned up a few notches when Prust met Stepan in Game 3.
No matter who’s in the lineup, the number of post-whistle scuffles is about to go way up.