The New York Rangers will get their second chance to eliminate the Montreal Canadiens and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. New York leads the Eastern Conference Finals 3-2, but Montreal is making a strong push after playing catch-up all series long.
Game 6 is sure to hold intensity and physical play, and Montreal’s Brandon Prust will be in the middle of it all. Prust will return in Game 6 after missing two games due to a suspension he received for an illegal hit on Derek Stepan.
Each team has played with an extra gear of physicality since the Prust hit that broke Stepan’s jaw, and Prust’s return will certainly provoke scrappy play. Prust has to maintain focus and play smart in order to help his team and not hurt them.
Prust’s role has always been to play a physical game and hit the other team, but he must stay in control while doing so. The Rangers will be gunning for him, but he has to use it to his advantage and not give the Rangers power play opportunities by taking bad penalties. Prust won’t score a lot of goals, but he can draw penalties and help the Canadiens if he plays smart.
The Rangers must try to do the same thing when it comes to playing smart, especially after the whistle. There will definitely be some scuffles throughout the game after the whistle, but neither team can afford to take a stupid roughing penalty in those cases.
The series has gotten nastier as it’s progressed, and there was more fuel added to the fire in Game 5 when Rangers defensemen John Moore delivered a similar illegal hit to Dale Weise. Moore’s series is finished, as he was also given a two-game suspension which would last the remainder of this series if it reaches seven games.
Prust leads the Canadiens in penalty minutes this postseason with 30, a number he can’t afford to add much to in Game 6. He has to stay in control, but it won’t be easy with the Rangers trying to hit him all the time. Whatever happens, Prust’s presence alone will intensify the game and he’ll be a focal point in Montreal’s physical game.
Between illegal hits, hard plays and injured players, this series has a lot of reasons to get even dirtier quickly. Each team must try to keep their focus on the task at hand. For Montreal that task is sending the series back home even; for New York it’s sending themselves to their first Cup Final in 20 years.