Brandon Prust said "I feel awful'' about the hit that broke the jaw of Rangers forward Derek Stepan, adding that he used that same phrase in a text he sent to his former teammate.
Prust received a response from the player he refers to as "a friend.''
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"It was short,'' the Montreal winger said. "I think he understands where I'm coming from. It's a tough situation right now.''
That was his way of referring to the fact that Stepan was in a hospital Saturday, recovering from jaw surgery, while Prust was giving his take on the two-game suspension he incurred for the hit early in Game 3 of the suddenly bitter Eastern Conference finals.
Prust said he knew he would get a suspension once he learned that Stepan was injured -- news that broke after a CT scan on Friday (after Stepan returned and finished the game Thursday night). Prust indicated that his hearing dealt with the timing of his hit, that it was late. "So you know, that's on me,'' he said.
"It's my first shift and first game back at MSG and emotions are going. I want to get out there and create contact. That's kind of my main goal,'' Prust said, adding that he had planned to have an aggressive shift days earlier.
"It was after Game 2,'' he said. "We're coming in and we just lost two games at home and we have to turn the series around. You know, I'm not looking to turn [it] around by an injury. I'm looking to turn it around by being physical and making sure we're on the forecheck and making sure I'm playing my style of hockey.''
The Rangers craved his style when they acquired him from the Flames in 2010, and teammates were sorry to see him go when he signed with the Canadiens as a free agent in 2012. But he knows where he stands with New Yorkers now. He knows the Rangers and their fans believe he should have been penalized on the play and that his suspension was much too light.
"I'm not too worried. They're not my fans anymore. I'm in Montreal now, and those are my fans,'' he said during a news conference at the Garden Saturday. "I remember my time here and I still love this city and appreciate this organization, but I'm . . . focused on getting ready and coming back for Game 6.''
He drew laughter from the media with his reply after he was asked if he had reached out to Stepan: "You're lucky I'm not Torts and just walk right out of here.''
One can only imagine how this situation would have been inflamed if John Tortorella still were coaching the Rangers.
But Prust wasn't joking when he spoke of Stepan. "I'm not out there trying to injure anybody, and Step's a friend of mine,'' he said.
It remains to be seen if they ever will be friends again. "I don't think we're too worried about that,'' Prust said. "That's not really an issue. I'm sure things will heal with time. I don't think we're worried about something like that right now.''