Brandon Prust made headlines on Sunday night the same way he does every spring: not with his play but with his mouth.
In the aftermath of Montreal’s 6–2 loss to Tampa, the fourth-line banger held court in the Canadiens’ dressing room. And as he tends to do in these situations he delivered the money sound bite, ripping referee Brad Watson for what Prust said was unprofessional conduct.
Prust earned 31 penalty minutes on the night, including a game misconduct late in the third, but it was a double minor for roughing and unsporstmanlike conduct in the first period that had him steaming.
“I thought the original call was kind of soft and I let him know on the way to the penalty box,” said Prust. “He kept provoking me. He came to the box and called me every name in the book. He called me a piece of you know what, a motherf----r, coward, said he’d drive me right out of this building. I kept going, ‘Yeah, OK, yeah OK, yeah OK.’ He kept on me, he kept on me. I kept saying, ‘Yeah, OK.’ I wasn’t looking at him. He teed me up. That’s the ref he is. He tries to play God, he tries to control the game and he did that tonight.”
The only thing clear from the video is that words were exchanged. What actually was said should be uncovered by a league investigation that will involve talking to both men as well as the nearby off-ice officials, and accessing the audio from nearby microphones. Shouldn’t be too hard to figure out.
Either way, though, mistakes were made that are impossible to excuse.
No matter how angry he was, Prust has to know better than to tee off on an official. He’s certain to face a fine for his rant, but that’s not even his biggest worry. Nobody likes to be embarrassed like that and the guys in stripes have long memories. Not just Watson, either. All of them. Whatever benefit of the doubt Prust used to get from the stripes is now gone.
It doesn't look good on Watson, either, although we’ll have to wait and see how ugly this gets. It was interesting to hear the former players who were working the Rogers broadcast make it sound like referees never escort players to the bin, because it does happen. Fairly often, in fact. As someone who has spent time working NHL penalty boxes as an off-ice official, I can recall several instances where the ref skated over to discuss a call with a player. Usually it was fairly civil with the official either allowing the player to blow off some steam or else explaining the rationale for his call. Usually, but not always.
Whatever motivated Watson in this case, whatever actually was said, we know this much: he won’t be skating any more games in this series, and certainly no more Canadiens games if they advance. But if the tone of their discussion was as far over the line as Prust suggests, he won’t be working anymore playoff games, period. That’ll hit him in the wallet and damage his reputation more than Prust’s words ever could.
Clearly there are no winners here.
• The Capitals got what they wanted out of Games 1 and 2 in New York: a split. But maybe they should have set their sights a little higher.
There was a level of satisfaction to their play after winning the opener that suggested a lack of killer instinct, especially early in Game 2 when the Rangers had them on their heels for long stretches. And so instead of returning to Verizon Center with a stranglehold on the series, the pressure is now squarely on the Caps to hold serve at home ... which won’t be easy.
New York, after all, was the league’s top road team this season. The Rangers played 43 games away from home, including a pair in Pittsburgh in the first round. They won 30 of them. Counting those two wins over the Pens, they’ve taken 12 of their past 13 on the road.
And the Blueshirts have been in this position before. They lost Game 2 at home in the first round, then stormed into Pittsburgh and won Games 3 and 4 before closing out the series at Madison Square Garden in Game 5.
The key to their success is their consistency. There’s no change in style, no effort to work for favorable matchups. Instead, coach Alain Vigneault runs four lines, keeping everyone active and involved.
It helps too that their quick strike game has a way of sucking the life out of an enemy crowd.
Vigneault, however, may be a little more careful about how he runs his defense. Veteran Dan Boyle has been struggling of late and was caught on the ice for three of Washington’s four goals in the series so far. His lack of foot speed and some rushed decisions have made him a favorite target of Washington’s forecheck. If there’s a weak link in the Rangers’ road chain, he may be it.
The numbers game
• The Ducks have started the postseason with six straight wins for the second time in their history. They previously did it in 2003 and are one of only five teams to put together such a streak. The others are the 1994 Rangers, ’99 Red Wings, ’99 Stars and 2008 Penguins. The Rangers and Stars went on to win the Stanley Cup.
• The Blackhawks are now 10-3 all time against the Wild in postseason play and have won all eight of their meetings in Chicago. Their stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have scored in the same playoff game 11 times and are tied with Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg of the Red Wings for third-most among current NHL teammates in that category. Only two pairs of Blackhawks have lit the lamp together in more postseason games: Steve Larmer and Denis Savard (14) and Dennis Hull and Stan Mikita (12).
• Carey Price is now the fourth goalie in Canadiens history to play in at least 50 postseason games. The others: Patrick Roy (114), Ken Dryden (112) and Jacques Plante (90).
• Johnstown, Pennsylvania, best known as the home of a fictional hockey team, will be an NHL city for one day next fall.
• It’s time to do something about the lack of scoring in the NHL. Calling obvious penalties to create more power plays might be a good place to start.
• Is this NHL team about to become for Russians what Detroit is for Swedes?
• Medicine balls and a barrage of white pucks changed everything for this goalie.