- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- Now this is really starting to feel like a series, huh? The drama has escalated, and tensions continue to rise in the lead-up to Game 4 between the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference finals Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
In the days prior to Sunday’s match, we’ve seen Rangers coach Alain Vigneault and Habs coach Michel Therrien put their long-standing friendship aside as they trade barbs in a verbal battle that has been just as nasty as anything seen on the ice this series. Players are getting in on the action too, with some pointed swipes from both sides. Suffice it to say that Sunday’s game will not be lacking for emotion as the Habs try to tie the series up before heading back to Montreal for Game 5 on Tuesday.
Stepan out: Rangers center Derek Stepan has been ruled out for Game 4 while he recovers from a broken jaw sustained in Game 3. The 23-year-old center suffered the injury during the first period of the Rangers' 3-2 overtime loss Thursday after taking a blindside blow from former teammate Brandon Prust, who was subsequently hit with a two-game suspension for the late hit and will not be eligible to return until Game 6, if necessary. The Rangers are also without a player because of suspension; Daniel Carcillo was assessed with a 10-game ban for striking an official with his elbow during an altercation in Thursday’s game. Carcillo is seeking a review of the suspension and will have an in-person hearing with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to appeal the decision.
Brassard back: Knocked from action in the series opener by a crushing, open-ice hit from Montreal defenseman Mike Weaver, Rangers center Derick Brassard is expected to play in Game 4 after sitting out the last two games. Brassard declared himself ready to play Saturday, and Vigneault indicated he would be back in the lineup, a good thing for the Rangers especially with the absence of Stepan. Though Vigneault was upset at some of Therrien’s comments Saturday regarding Brassard’s injury -- comments that he clearly interpreted as threatening -- Therrien said the Habs just want to play the dynamic 26-year-old pivot hard. “No one gets a free pass,” Therrien said in his pregame press briefing. Weaver also said that while the Canadiens will try to finish their checks on Brassard, there is no plan to target his left shoulder.
Lineup changes: With Stepan out, J.T. Miller is expected to draw into the Rangers lineup, where he will likely play on a line with Derek Dorsett and center Brian Boyle. In Stepan’s place, veteran Dominic Moore will likely bump up to center a line between Chris Kreider and Rick Nash.
8dScott Burnside and Craig Custance