NEW YORK -- The Montreal Canadiens had their reason to be upset, and now the New York Rangers do as well. The animosity in the Eastern Conference Final between these two Original Six teams is now a two-way street.
With the announcement Friday that Rangers center Derek Stepan will be out indefinitely with a broken jaw due to a hit from Canadiens forward Brandon Prust, the feeling that the opposing team took out a top player in the series is being felt by both teams.
"As a competitor you never want to see a player get injured," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said Friday. "But if there's one team that knows that it's us, we lost our most important player in Carey Price in the Kreider incident. You don't want to see a player injured, you want competition, you want both teams to play solid hockey. That's what we're seeing right now, but when you see one of your players or an opposing player get seriously injured and knocked out, it's unfortunate."
The Canadiens stood by Prust, who was suspended for two games by the NHL's Department of Player Safety on Friday for the hit. The Canadiens felt Prust was simply finishing his hit, though the NHL clearly established that the hit came far too late.
Regardless, two teams that did not have much of a rivalry clearly have one now with the Rangers leading the best-of-7 series 2-1 entering Game 4 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"The rivalry with Boston is much bigger," Canadiens center David Desharnais said, "but with games like [Thursday] we're building one with the Rangers."
Hate is a strong word, but according to Canadiens center Lars Eller, it is something that is sorely necessary in a playoff series such as this one.
"You have to hate them, yeah, you have to hate them," he said. "It shouldn't be hard to get motivation for the Conference Final, but it is a little different.
"There is no problem getting motivation now."