Those who said this really became a series when the Canadiens won Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night didn't know the half of it, or at least were premature. You know it's a series when the heat boils over on a day off, which is what happened Saturday.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien was upset that Rangers assistant coaches were watching his team practice, so he shooed them away.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault asserted that Dan Carcillo never would have been suspended for 10 games if Brandon Prust hadn't leveled Derek Stepan, breaking the Ranger's jaw.
And Canadiens veteran Daniel Briere implied the Rangers ought to look in the mirror.
"They got away with a lot of stuff,'' he said. "Ryan McDonagh is a great defenseman, but I haven't seen someone slash as much as he does since probably Chris Pronger played. It goes both ways."
So welcome, finally, to the postseason.
You've got to admit that even though the Rangers have been successful and dipped deeply into an emotional reservoir through their first two series, they never experienced the jagged edges that make the playoffs so intense. Now that has changed.
"We've seen and been in lots of them and things like this do happen," the Rangers' Brad Richards said Saturday at the Garden, where both teams practiced.
With apologies to Allen Iverson ("Listen, we're sitting here talking about practice!"), a workout can be worth getting worked up about. While the Rangers still were quietly seething about losing Stepan to a hit that they saw as a cheap shot ("That's not a good injury to have, a broken jaw," Richards said), Therrien was upset about what he saw as his opponent's gamesmanship.
According to hockey protocol, morning skates are fair game. Everyone is allowed in the rink on game days. Off-day practices, although they are open to the media, are another story.
"There is always a gentlemen's agreement between the general managers that [the opponent's] coaches are not allowed to attend practices between games," the visiting coach said. "It's respect for coaches that want to make adjustments between games, and it's always been like that and that's the way it is."
So Therrien put up a fuss when he spotted Rangers assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson, video coach Jerry Dineen and another Rangers staffer near the rink (general manager Glen Sather was watching from the stands). He asked them to leave. Smart money says the episode doesn't end there.
On the Rangers' side, Vigneault still was unhappy about Stepan's injury, which did not yield even a two-minute penalty to Prust in Game 3. Vigneault didn't absolve Carcillo for bumping a linesman in a Prust-related altercation, but he did blame Carcillo's possible career-altering suspension on the Prust hit. "If the right call is made on the ice,'' he said, "that whole situation doesn't happen."
But Briere thinks Vigneault is just doing what players do on the ice: making a show of arguing a call, but really planting a seed to get the next one.
Notice a pattern here? The invective goes back and forth. It always does in any playoff series that is worth its salt. One side accuses the other of cheap hits. Someone fires back by accusing the other side of being deliberately, dramatically mysterious about injuries.
"We expect Derick Brassard to play and we know exactly where he's injured. Hockey is a small world," Therrien reportedly said in French, according to a tweet by a French-speaking TV reporter.
It's a small world with small thoughts sometimes. But those always have flowed both ways. Over the years, the Rangers have defended their players when opponents have been injured by hits.
Hard feelings are as much a part of this time of year as tree pollen. "Everybody has to expect that," Briere said. "It's nothing really surprising at this point that, after three games, both teams are starting to hate each other a little bit more."
No one here is rooting for hatred. But there is no denying that Sunday night's Game 4 will be worth watching. It will offer a twist on an old saying: I went to a hockey game and the playoffs broke out.