GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Alain Vigneault goes way back with Michel Therrien and much of the Canadiens coaching staff -- Clement Jodoin, one of Therrien's assistants, was Vigneault's assistant back when Vigneault was the Habs' head coach from 1997-2000. So there are few secrets.
And there are few coaching head games that the other isn't familiar with. Vigneault lobbed the first volley Friday, the eve of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, when he said his Rangers were the clear underdogs to Therrien's Canadiens and that the Rangers won't disrespect the Canadiens the way Montreal felt the Bruins did in the last round.
"We know going into this series that, rightfully so, they're the favorites," Vigneault said. "Against Tampa Bay and against Boston, they were the underdogs, they didn't have home ice. Now, they're going into this series they're very likely expected to win. Pressure does funny things to different people. I'm anxious to see how we're going to react. I'm sure they're anxious to see how they're going to act."
When told of his Vigneault's comments after the Canadiens practice in suburban Montreal, Therrien laughed. "That's a media game," Therrien told reporters.
Vigneault certainly holds no ill will towards the organization in which he got his start as an NHL coach, hired at the tender age of 36. He calls Therrien, whom Vigneault recommended to take the Canadiens' AHL job in Fredericton in 1997 and who took over for a fired Vigneault early in the 2000-01 season, a friend.
"The fact that I started in Montreal, for me I've got nothing but positive memories of my time there," Vigneault said. "If I'm here today it's because I started there . . . I'm very close with Michel. He's one of the guys through the years we've shared our experiences. I have a lot of respect for him."
So this will be special for both sides, beyond the 18-year gap since the Original Six teams met in the postseason. And it may become more so if Vigneault continues to try and spin the series as the little old Rangers vs. the mighty Habs.
"I know they went into the Boston series saying that they felt Boston didn't respect them. We respect Montreal quite a bit," Vigneault said. "They're a team that has beaten the No. 1 team in the NHL right now, a team went to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, a team [Boston] that beat the New York Rangers in five games last year. So, we know that we've got our hands full."