Hours before the first shot, pass or check in Game 4, both sides were trying for the final word. The verbal coaching faceoff that had dominated the off day Saturday picked right up Sunday morning with the Rangers' Alain Vigneault and the Canadiens' Michel Therrien agreeing on one thing: Their long friendship definitely is on hold.
Vigneault asserted that the Rangers "were treated unfairly" Saturday when Therrien asked Rangers coaches to leave the Canadiens' practice. Therrien held his ground on that "Spygate" episode but did say he looks forward to having "a nice cold beer" with his counterpart, for whom he says he has "tons of respect."
On top of that, Derek Stepan, recovering from surgery on his broken jaw, visited his Rangers teammates before the morning skate at Madison Square Garden. Colin Campbell, the National Hockey League's director of hockey operations, also was there and reportedly (according to espn.com's Pierre LeBrun) met with Therrien and Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin to discuss the contretemps involving the coaches at practice.
It all reflected the tone of a series that has developed animosity in two languages.
The most serious issue was fallout from Therrien's remark in French on Saturday that the Canadiens know what the undisclosed injury is to Derick Brassard (who scored a second-period goal Sunday night).
"Let's put it this way: I hope nothing happens to Brass, the player, [or] Michel could be in trouble," Vigneault said.
This was his first chance to respond to numerous charges, including one from the Canadiens' Daniel Briere that Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh is guilty of slashing. "Ryan McDonagh plays the game in an honorable way," Vigneault said.
Of the supposed gentlemen's agreement that bars opposing coaches from watching off-day workouts, Vigneault said, "There is no rule. There was no agreement between both teams . . . I know in the hockey world we were painted as dishonest and dishonorable. We're not. We follow the rules. We follow the rules on the ice and we will follow the rules off the ice."
Therrien still said that hockey protocol involves an unspoken agreement. He laughed when someone asked if he was afraid after Vigneault's apparent threat regarding the Brassard comment. "The intention is not to hurt the guy. I mean, come on," he said. "But you have to play hard. No one's got a free pass."
The two coaches have worked closely together, when Vigneault was the Canadiens' head coach and Therrien coached the club's American Hockey League affiliate. "He's a good friend, and I'm privileged to be one of his friends,'' Therrien said. "He's an important person in my life. He's a guy that pushed for me to get into pro hockey, and I respect that. But right now we're battling for the same thing."
Vigneault didn't disagree. When he was asked about Therrien, he said, "I think he said prior to the series, for this two-week period we're not really friends. And he's probably right."
Players on both sides were determined not to re-stir their coaches' words. Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty, a former Rangers diehard from Connecticut, said, "It's all just noise. Games are too valuable right now to be caught up in something off the ice."
The Rangers' Brian Boyle added, "There's a lot of talking, a lot of harping on what people are saying. I just want to play a hockey game."
And what a game it turned out to be.