The lines had been drawn in the Eastern Conference finals since before Game 1, back when the Canadiens ousted the Bruins in seven games and peeked ahead.
"I feel sorry for any team who has to come into our building and our city," declared defenseman P.K. Subban.
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That was just the first shot across the bow from the surprisingly loquacious Canadiens, and the barrages, which soon included coach Michel Therrien, continued, right to the brink of Sunday night's Game 4 at Madison Square Garden, which went into overtime tied 2-2.
As it turned out, the Rangers took the first two games of the best-of-seven series in Montreal, goaltender Carey Price's knee gave way after a Game 1 collision with Chris Kreider, and the jabs, accusations, gamesmanship -- as well as injuries and suspensions -- ramped up daily.
But the Stanley Cup playoffs aren't decided from the podiums or the lockers or in the media: The first team to win four games in each series advances, the other goes home, and the Rangers held a 2-1 edge in that category coming into Sunday night's match, which again had rookie Dustin Tokarski in the net opposite Henrik Lundqvist. Game 5 will be in Montreal Tuesday.
The Blueshirts had won five of their last six playoff games, although were just 4-4 at home in the postseason following the 3-2 overtime defeat in Thursday's Game 3.
"Playoffs are always emotional, like in Philly and in Pitt, always emotional series and there's always going to be intensity," said Derek Dorsett, who dropped the gloves with Brandon Prust after his check that broke Derek Stepan's jaw in Game 3, and sidelined him for Sunday night's game. "We go about our business on the ice. We're just preparing for the way we've played all playoffs. Whenever you see an elite player like that go down, a guy like Step -- I don't think he's missed a game in his career (294) with an injury -- but someone else will rise to the challenge."
That could be Dominic Moore, the veteran center who took Stepan's spot between Kreider and Rick Nash. Moore, who has nine goals and 13 assists in five different postseasons, played in Derick Brassard's slot in Game 3.
But Brassard, who suffered a shoulder injury on Mike Weaver open-ice hit early in Game 1, was back in the lineup, between Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot, a trio that had been very effective during the season, with 52 goals and 88 assists.
On the fourth line, with Dan Carcillo sitting the first game of his 10-game suspension for contact with linesman Scott Driscoll, a punishment which he is appealing, was J. T. Miller, a former first-round draft pick who had played three games in the first two rounds, and recorded two assists.
"I don't want to let the nerves get to me," Miller said. "But it's my first time in a conference final game; I have to just try to treat it like a normal game."
The sold-out Garden crowd, he said, "makes it easier to get up to play, as well as that it's getting to the time where everything is so crucial. You don't want to look too far ahead, but if we win this one tonight, it'll set us up pretty good for the rest of the series."
The winner of the series will face either the Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final.