NEW YORK -- New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault and Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien continued their war of words Sunday following the morning skates and hours before puck drop in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Final series at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; CBC, RDS, NBCSN).
The Rangers lead the best-of-7 series 2-1.
Vigneault took exception to the post-practice commentary provided by Therrien on Saturday when the Canadiens coach questioned why Rangers assistant coaches were viewing his team's practice.
At the time, Therrien took umbrage with the fact Rangers assistant Ulf Samuelsson and video coach Jerry Dineen were scouting his team. He sent Montreal assistant Jean-Jacques Daigneault to the area where they were seated to ask them to leave. When they didn't, Therrien himself acted on the situation and verbally instructed the Rangers assistants to leave.
The Montreal coach acknowledged that there was a "gentleman's agreement" reached by Rangers general manager Glen Sather and Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin that neither team would watch the other's practice.
Vigneault never heard of such an agreement.
"We were treated very unfairly," Vigneault said after the morning skate Sunday at MSG. "There is no rule. There was no agreement between both teams. That is the exception, not the rule. I've been asked in the past to do this on a couple of occasions. Usually the coach calls me or the GM calls the GM, never happened.
"What happened [Saturday] was uncalled for," Vigneault continued. "Without a doubt, my staff handled it with a lot of class, just like our team. Play whistle to whistle and don't get involved with the other stuff. We're very credible. This is the National Hockey League, and that type of behavior … we're lucky it didn't escalate."
The friendship that existed prior to the series between Vigneault and Therrien has evidently been put on hold while their teams battle for Eastern Conference supremacy.
"I think [Therrien] said prior to the series that for this two-week period, we're not really friends and he's probably right," Vigneault said.
Therrien laughed when asked about his current relationship with Vigneault.
"You know what? Alain Vigneault, first of all, he's a good friend, and I'm privileged to be one of his friends," Therrien said. "He's an important person in my life. He's a guy that pushed for me to get into pro hockey, and I respect that. Over the years we became great, great friends, and I've got tons of respect for him, and he's a good coach.
"But right now we're battling for the same thing. He wants to get to the Stanley Cup Final with his team, it's the same thing for me. We've got to put our friendship aside for, what, two weeks? But I'm sure when everything's going to be done and everything's going to be over, and as soon as we get a chance to see each other, we're going to have a nice cold beer, like we did in the past, and nothing's going to change."
The animosity between the teams probably began in the second period of Game 1 at Bell Centre in Montreal when Rangers left wing Chris Kreider collided with Canadiens goalie Carey Price. Price sustained a knee injury on the play and was declared out for the remainder of the series.
It continued in Game 3 on Thursday at MSG when Canadiens forward Brandon Prust leveled center Derek Stepan 2:45 into the first period. Stepan resumed a regular shift after the hit, but it was revealed by Vigneault on Friday that he had sustained a broken jaw.
Stepan will miss Game 4 and there is no timetable for his return. Adding fuel to the fire was the fact Canadiens forward Daniel Briere on Saturday called Stepan's injury "fishy."
When Prust took his next shift, Rangers forward Derek Dorsett decided to answer for his teammate by dropping the gloves and fighting. That tussle was triggered after Daniel Carcillo charged Prust from behind and into the end boards. Carcillo has since been suspended 10 games as a result of being assessed a game misconduct penalty under Rule 40.3 (physical abuse of officials). Prust, who wasn't assessed on penalty on the play against Stepan, was suspended two games for interference.
Vigneault on Sunday was asked if he felt the gamesmanship between teams has gotten out of control.
"I can't speak for the other organization but if you ask me about [Stepan], he's got a broken jaw that just got operated on," he said. "I can't comment on their players saying Step's injury is fishy. We're trying to play whistle to whistle. We're trying to do the right things. I know in the hockey world we were painted as dishonest and dishonorable [for viewing their practice]; we're not. We follow the rules. We follow the rules on the ice, and we will follow the rules off the ice."
Another topic of discussion was Rangers center Derick Brassard, who is expected to return to the lineup after missing the past two games with an upper-body injury. Therrien on Saturday alluded to the fact he and his staff "know exactly where [Brassard] is injured."
Vigneault was asked if he considered the comment threatening.
"Let's put it this way, I hope nothing happens to Brass, the player, because Michel could be in trouble," he said.
Therrien fired back when told of Vigneault's comments.
"I was saying the same thing we said about Carey Price, that they knew before we knew his injuries, and in the hockey world it's a small world," Therrien said. "We knew exactly what happened to Derick Brassard. And by the way, he's a good player. He's an important player. But the intention is not to hurt the guy. I mean, come on."
Amidst the banter between coaches, there is an important game to be played Sunday. The Rangers are two wins from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since winning it all in 1994, and the Canadiens require three more victories to earn their first Cup berth since celebrating a championship in 1993.
"Hockey is a beautiful game," Vigneault said. "I wish a lot of this stuff didn't happen. When it does, you deal with it. I don't think it has a major effect, if any, on the ice. I don't think it helps our game, but some people decide otherwise."