Whoever can best survive the war of attrition in the grueling NHL playoffs has a real shot at the Stanley Cup. Right now, the Rangers are losing battles.
The Rangers, who saw their 2-0 advantage in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals chopped in half with Montreal's 3-2 overtime win at Madison Square Garden Thursday night, are hurting even more as Game 4 approaches Sunday night.
Derek Stepan, the center for Rick Nash and Chris Kreider on the Rangers' No. 1 line, was scheduled to have surgery Friday night to repair a broken jaw, coach Alain Vigneault said. Stepan suffered the injury in the first period of Game 3 on a blindside hit by former Ranger Brandon Prust, who wasn't penalized. It was unclear how long Stepan will be sidelined.
"We'll have an idea of the time frame [Saturday]," Vigneault said.
After a 4 p.m. hearing Friday, the NHL suspended Prust for two games.
Earlier Friday afternoon, the NHL suspended Rangers left wing Dan Carcillo 10 games for physical abuse of an official. After Carcillo was whistled for charging Prust at 5:51 of the first period and Derek Dorsett fought with Prust, Carcillo resisted linesman Scott Driscoll's attempt to escort him to the penalty box.
Vigneault was visibly angered by Prust's hit, which Stepan's teammates called dirty, and the non-call.
Prust was critical after the Canadiens lost starting goaltender Carey Price for the series after a knee injury in Game 1, caused when Kreider collided with him on a drive to the net.
"The four [officials] missed the call," Vigneault said Friday. "The same player [Prust] that called the hit on Price 'accidental but on purpose.' Late hit, everything you want to get out of the game, and what saddens me is that if the call was made on the ice, we're on a five-minute power play and what happened to Dan Carcillo -- and what Dan did was inexcusable and he's going to pay a big price for it -- but if the call is made on the ice, he's not put in that position."
Depending on the severity of the fracture, Stepan conceivably could play while wearing a full-cage mask. He used one while playing for the University of Wisconsin, as required by the NCAA.
After lying face down on the ice, Stepan, who has three goals and eight assists in the playoffs, went to the locker room. He returned later in the period and played a total of 17:46. He had X-rays during the game, which were negative, but was in pain afterward. He visited a specialist Friday for more detailed scans that revealed a fracture, a team spokesman said.
"Prust's intention was not to hurt Stepan," Montreal coach Michel Therrien said. "It was to try to finish his check, and sometimes it's less than a second that a player's got to react. It's tough. You never want to see a player get hurt. But it was a good hit. It was a hockey hit."
Carcillo, whose reputation as an agitator has earned him the nickname "Carbomb," was automatically suspended under Rule 40.3, category 2, which states: "Any player who deliberately applies physical force to an official in any manner . . . which physical force is applied without intent to injure, or who spits on an official, shall be automatically suspended for not less than 10 games."
Carcillo likely will appeal within 72 hours to commissioner Gary Bettman. The current ban would last until a possible Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final or carry into next season.
The Rangers also have had to play without center Derick Brassard for all but 35 seconds of Game 1 after he was drilled by defenseman Mike Weaver on a mid-ice check. Brassard is believed to have injured a shoulder.
Carcillo was given Brassard's roster spot. Brassard, who went through a full practice Thursday, remains day-to-day, Vigneault said.