Hartnett: Canadiens Coach Paints Kreider As Public Enemy No. 1
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By Sean Hartnett
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Michel Therrien just took the Eastern Conference finals to a new level of intensity.
The Montreal Canadiens’ head coach announced Monday that star goaltender Carey Price would not only miss Game 2, but wouldn’t play again against the Rangers — and he wasted little time pointing fingers.
“You know what, Carey Price won’t be able to play tonight,” Therrien said. “Not only for tonight, but for the rest of that series. Really disappointed. He’s our best player.”
Things got interesting in a hurry as Therrien accused Rangers forward Chris Kreider of committing a reckless play and having a history of running opposing goalies.
“Looking at the incident, you know, it’s a reckless play. That’s the truth. And Kreider, this is not the first time he’s going at goalies, so end up losing your best player,” Therrien said. “But our group faced a lot of adversity through the course of the season, and we respond and we’ve got the attitude to respond really well, and this is what I’m expecting starting tonight.”
It’s a sudden change of tune for Therrien, who initially called Kreider’s collision with Price during the second period of Game 1 on Sautrday “accidental.” Yet, there was no way for Kreider to avoid Price once he lost his balance at high speed as Montreal defenseman Alexei Emelin reached out to make contact with Kreider’s right knee.
Therrien has painted Kreider as public enemy No. 1 in Montreal, using it as fuel for a response. He’ll gladly accept being labeled a hypocrite if that means his words will charge up his players and the usually passionate fans packed inside Bell Centre.
His players failed to answer the bell throughout their 7-2 series-opening defeat, and the famous electricity was missing from the arena as it fell silent. It certainly won’t be a tame atmosphere when the Habs and Rangers take the ice on Monday night.
Therrien is trying to manufacture a hatred within his locker room to get his players to respond with an intensity. His players will target Kreider throughout the rest of the series, and the Bell Centre crowd will be all over Kreider every time he touches the puck.
But if Therrien wants a war, he’s got one. He just needs to be sure his troops are ready to match firepower with the confident and assured Rangers, who have been on a mission of their own since Game 5 of the previous series against Pittsburgh.
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault did not take the bait on Monday. He said that the Rangers will continue to play their straight-ahead style of hockey and not be distracted by incidents between the whistles. Vigneault said Kreider is by no means a dirty player.
“Kreider is a good player, an honest player like the rest of our team,” Vigneault said. “We play a straight-forward game, whistle to whistle and that’s not going to change tonight.”
Vigneault described the collision with Price as “a hockey play.”
Rangers alternate captain Brad Richards passionately defended Kreider on Sunday.
“I’ve never seen a hockey player that can score an important goal on a breakaway and would rather run into a goalie or figure out a way to hit a goalie,” Richards said. “I mean, he’s trying to score a goal. If you’ve watched him, he’s a pretty fast, big player. When he gets going, it’s hard to stop sometimes. It’s a split-second thing that happened. No one’s trying to (injure anyone) we’re trying to score goals and get ahead 3-0, not manufacture something like that.
“They can say that. They can think that. That’s their right, but we know how Chris plays, and it’s a fast game out there, a lot of things can happen,” Richards added.
UNKNOWN TOKARSKI TO GET THE CALL?
When asked whether he would start experienced backup Peter Budaj or 24-year-old Dustin Tokarski in Game 2, Therrien refused to reveal his starter.
“I already made my decision,” Therrien said. “I know where I’m going. You’ll see tonight.”
After replacing Price in Game 1, Budaj allowed three goals on eight shots. Budaj’s regular season numbers were what you’d expect from a backup as he went 10-8-3 with a 2.51 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.
It would be more likely to expect Tokarski to start Game 2, because the Rangers don’t know much about him. He went 20-16-3 for AHL Hamilton with a 2.38 GAA and .919 save percentage. He was called up for three regular season games, going 2-0-0 with a 1.84 GAA and .946 save percentage.
Tokarski’s NHL experience is limited as he’s only played in 10 career regular season games split between the Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning. His first career playoff appearance could come Monday night.
Even though Tokarski is inexperienced at the NHL level, he has a history of winning tournaments at youth and minor-league levels.
Tokarski captured the 2008 Memorial Cup as a member of the Spokane Chiefs and was named MVP of the tournament. The following year, Tokarski led Canada to gold at the 2009 World Juniors and won the 2012 AHL Calder Cup with Tampa Bay’s minor-league affiliate in Norfolk.
DON’T EXPECT BRASSARD TO PLAY IN GAME 2
Rangers center Derick Brassard only took two shifts and played for a total of 35 seconds in Game 1. After receiving a hard hit from Canadiens defenseman Mike Weaver, Brassard was attended to by Rangers’ trainer Jim Ramsay on the bench before he left for the dressing room. He did not return for the remainder of the game.
Brassard skated with his teammates on Monday morning. He did not take line rushes. Instead, Dominic Moore continued skating at center between Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello.
“Brass is day-to-day,” Vigneault said. “And as far as lineup decisions, I haven’t finalized that. It’s like any other game, you’ll find out tonight at 8 o’clock when the puck drops.”
Expect Dan Carcillo to return for Game 2 to add some more protection to the Rangers’ lineup. At Monday’s practice, he skated on the left wing of center Brian Boyle, with Derek Dorsett on the right.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey
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