By Matt Calamia
The Rangers were dealt a devastating blow this morning when they learned center Derek Stepan suffered a broke jaw following a blind-side hit from Montreal forward Brandon Prust in Game 3 Thursday night.
“Step right now, at this time, is probably getting operated on,” head coach Alain Vigneault said Friday morning at a press conference at Madison Square Garden. “He broke his jaw yesterday, so we’ll have an idea of the time frame tomorrow.”
Vigneault said Stepan’s timetable for return is unknown, though the team would have a better idea at practice on Saturday.
Prust was suspended for two games by the NHL for the hit.
The hit, which occurred at 2:45 of the first period, was not penalized, which Vigneault said led to more incidents.
Vigneault, though, said all of that could have been avoided if the call was made.
“That incident, four referees missed the call. Stepan is injured. The same player [Prust] that called the hit on Price ‘accidental but on purpose’ — late hit, everything you want to get out of the game, that was his hit on Stepan,” Vigneault said. “What’s saddens me about that hit is if the call is made on the ice, we’re on a five minute power play and what happened to Dan Carcillo — and what Dan did is inexcusable, and he’s going to pay a big price for it — but if the call is made on the ice, he’s not put in that position. So it’s unfortunate.”
Stepan returned to the game several minutes later. Vigneault said he was checked by doctors but “I’m not sure they did any X-rays or whatever.” The broken bone was discovered Friday morning, according to Vigneault.
“I never saw him. From the time I got the puck to the time I moved it,” Stepan said after Game 3 Thursday night. “I even got some strides in before I got hit and I never saw him the whole time.”
After a night to sleep on the hit, Stepan’s teammates were just as unpleased Friday morning as they were Thursday night.
“I think guys were unhappy there wasn’t a call on the play,” Chris Kreider told reporters Friday morning. “Obviously, it was away from the play so not a lot of people saw it. But I think the sentiment today is the same as it was yesterday, that it wasn’t a clean hit. Hopefully the League deals with it justly.”