NEW YORK – NHL
The New York Rangers’ smooth ride to the Stanley Cup finals has suddenly become much rougher.
Not only did the Broadway Blueshirts let the Montreal Canadiens back into the Eastern Conference finals with a 3-2 overtime victory Thursday at Madison Square Garden, they might have to play without top forward Derek Stepan, whose broken jaw required surgery Friday.
The Rangers will carry a 2-1 series lead into Sunday’s Game 4, but finishing off the Canadiens could be more difficult if Stepan is sidelined for long.
The center was injured 2:48 in when he was struck by a hard, blindside hit from Montreal’s Brandon Prust, who wasn’t penalized for the shot that left Stepan sprawled on the ice for several moments. Prust had a disciplinary hearing with the NHL on Friday, and was given a two-game suspension for interference by the league’s department of player safety. He would be eligible to play in Game 6 should the series last that long.
Stepan got up after the hit, had X-rays taken that were negative, and returned to the game. But pain later Thursday night and again on Friday prompted the Rangers to send him to a specialist. Further tests and scans revealed the fracture.
His playing status is unclear, but Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said more would be known Saturday. With a two-day break before Game 4, both teams stayed off the ice Friday.
Vigneault had already proclaimed Thursday that the on-ice officials failed in not penalizing Prust. He hammered the point home Friday and took issue with Prust, who was critical of New York forward Chris Kreider’s collision with Carey Price in Game 1 that knocked the Canadiens’ No. 1 goalie out of the series.
“Four referees missed the call. Stepan is injured,” Vigneault said. “The same player that called the hit on Price ‘accidental but on purpose.’
“Late hit, everything that you want to get out of the game, that was his hit on Stepan. What saddens me about that hit is, if the call is made on the ice, we’re on a five-minute power play.”
Prust, a fan favorite when he previously played for the Rangers, was hit from behind at 5:51 of the first period by New York enforcer Daniel Carcillo, who was penalized for charging. That immediately led to Prust fighting Derek Dorsett.