The Eastern Conference Final began last Monday night.
The war of words commenced Sunday.
John Tortorella ripped Devils coach Pete DeBoer’s “head-hunting, plain and simple” comment about Brandon Prust’s elbow to the back of Anton Volchenkov’s head in the second period of the New York Rangers’ 3-0 win in Game 3 at the Prudential Center Saturday afternoon.
The Rangers learned later in the day that Prust would be suspended for Game 4. It is the first suspension in his career.
“Prust has played probably 300-plus games without any hearing. He’s probably one of the most honest players,” Tortorella said. “I don’t know what I’m going to [do] with the lineup. I don’t think he should be suspended. So I really haven’t gone that far because I don’t think he should be.”
Prust is the second Rangers player to be suspended during the playoff season. Carl Hagelin was suspended for Games 3-5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against Ottawa for his elbow to the head of Daniel Alfredsson in Game Two
Game 4 is Monday night at The Rock. The Rangers lead the best-of-7 series 2-1.
Prust said he was “able to talk quite a bit and just explain kind of where I was coming from on the play and just trying to get in a check before it was the end of a shift.”
When asked for his response to DeBoer’s charge, Prust said, “I’m not too worried about what he has to say. He’s not my coach.”
His coach had plenty to say.
“I look at [Dainius] Zubrus’ elbow to [Anton] Stralman. I look at [Zach] Parise launching himself at [Michael] Del Zotto. Maybe if our players stayed down on the ice, we’ll get something. We tell our players don’t stay down on the ice. Get up. I’ll leave it at that,” charged Tortorella, who also objected to what he viewed as the Devils’ “pick-setting” scheme.
“Picking on the power play, set plays, picking on the power play. If we want to start discussing officials with the media, I have a long list here. That’s a set play by Jersey. Picking so we can’t get to [Ilya] Kovalchuk to block a shot.”
Kovalchuk opened the scoring in the first period of Game 2 with a power-play wrist shot from inside the left faceoff circle on a play that began with the Devils left wing walking down the wall without challenge.
“Game 2 it happened. I brought this up already," Tortorella said. "It’s a set play, because they know we’re trying to block shots from a pretty good shooter by them. So it happened to Danny [Girardi]. It happened to [Ryan Callahan]. I hope we look for it.”
DeBoer called Tortorella’s accusation, “comical.”
It is not the first time the coaches have exchanged terse words this season. Tortorella and DeBoer screamed at each other during a line brawl three seconds into a Rangers’ 4-2 win over the Devils at The Garden on March 19. DeBoer started a line of tough guys Eric Boulton, Ryan Carter and Cam Janssen, while Tortorella selected Prust, Mike Rupp and Stu Bickel to take the opening faceoff.
After the game, DeBoer said, “I guess in John’s world you can come into our building and start [his] tough guys but we can’t do the same in here. He’s either got short-term memory loss or he’s a hypocrite. So it’s one or the other.”
The next day, Tortorella said DeBoer needed “to jog his memory as far as the starting lineups that I’ve put in his building. And really, basically just shut up."
On Monday night, expect DeBoer and Tortorella to keep quiet, while their players do the talking.
You can follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman