For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens, NHL.com has enlisted the help of former NHL coach Craig Ramsay to break down the action. Ramsay will be checking in throughout the series.
Ramsay played in more than 1,000 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres before going on to coach the Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Atlanta Thrashers. In the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he led the Flyers to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final. Ramsay most recently was an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers.
Two games in six days have afforded the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens ample time to engage in the art of mind games while they wait for the Eastern Conference Final to resume.
The Canadiens and Rangers, particularly coaches Michel Therrien and Alain Vigneault, have used the media to deliver messages to each other, the referees and the NHL about players, tactics, hits, injuries and really whatever else they felt like talking about regardless of the question they were asked.
Longtime NHL coach and player Craig Ramsay wasn't surprised to hear that the coaches were using the media as their conduit when he was informed about the background noise in the series on Saturday. Ramsay said this type of message-sending and these mind games typically have a purpose that extends beyond simply attempting to air some grievances in the press.
He said they have everything to do with the competition, and trying to gain an advantage in the next game, which for the Rangers and Canadiens is Game 4 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
The Rangers lead the best-of-7 series 2-1.
"There's no question you'll say things that perhaps you don't really believe in, but it's a good way to send a message that you've been wronged and hope that that one call in the next game doesn't happen against you and maybe happens for you," Ramsay told NHL.com. "That one power play one way or another can make a difference."
The Rangers didn't get that one power play they felt they deserved in Game 3 after Montreal forward Brandon Prust connected with a late and high hit on Rangers center Derek Stepan at 2:45 of the first period. Prust was not penalized by the on-ice officials, but on Friday he received a two-game suspension for interference from the NHL's Department of Player Safety.
Vigneault has used the media since the end of Game 3 to talk about Prust, the lateness of the hit, how he thinks all four officials missed an obvious penalty, and the fallout that features a broken jaw for Stepan and a 10-game suspension for Daniel Carcillo.
"Here is an opportunity with a coach where you can legitimate bring it up as a point in a press conference and now you're getting something out to the League and to the referees that, 'Hey, we've been good and look what they did to us, a late hit on an unsuspecting player,' " Ramsay said. "You're trying to send a message to the League to watch out for it, but also to Montreal to watch out. They want the referees to feel like maybe they owe them one."
Therrien might have had similar intentions between the first two games of the series, when his feelings on Chris Kreider falling into goalie Carey Price at 3:15 of the second period in Game 1 changed.
Therrien called Kreider's play on Price "accidental, honestly" in his press conference after Game 1. He escalated his description to "reckless" seconds after announcing Price won't play for the remainder of the series during his press conference before Game 2.
"We've grown with our media coverage and our media presence has gotten so much bigger, especially at this time of year, so these coaches are using it as a tool," Ramsay said. "They're trying to send messages to people. They're trying to show their players they're backing them up."
That was evident again Saturday, when Vigneault refused to rule Stepan out of Game 4 despite the fact that he was still in the hospital recovering from surgery to repair the fracture in his jaw.
Vigneault said only that it would be "unlikely" for Stepan to play Sunday.
He also talked about how if Prust's hit resulted in a penalty on the ice then the incident that followed, with Carcillo having a physical altercation with linesman Steve Driscoll, the result of which was a game misconduct and 10-game suspension, would not have happened.
Montreal center Daniel Briere called Vigneault's comments "fishy," and then said he thought Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh is getting away with a lot of slashing.
More mind games. More message-sending.
"In all honesty, I think it's kind of fun, and I always did," Ramsay said of the mind games. "I thought it was fun as a player and as a coach it's kind of interesting. This coach saying we're changing this, changing that, and you know the reality is they're probably not doing much of anything. I think it's great fun."
Therrien didn't think it was fun to see some Rangers assistant coaches in the stands as the Canadiens started their practice Sunday at the Garden.
He had to eventually tell them to leave, in front of the media no less. In his press conference after practice, he cited "an agreement between the teams and the managers that the coaches aren't allowed to watch practice between games."
Ramsay, again, didn't seem at all surprised when he was told about the incident.
More mind games. More attempts to gain an advantage.
"You've got these two good teams playing well and they're trying to find some edge," Ramsay said. "There is a lot of message-sending. It's been thought out, talked over. Sometimes in the heat of passion after a game you say something you don't mean, but these coaches are smart guys, especially these two guys, and if they're saying something it's got a purpose."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl