Game Four Morning Skate: War Of Words; Brass and J.T. Set To Play

Jim Cerny


First the basic news from the Rangers morning skate Sunday at Madison Square Garden prior to tonight's Game Four of the Eastern Conference Final: Derek Stepan was released from the hospital and visited his teammates prior to their skate today and then went home to recover from surgery on his broken jaw; head coach Alain Vigneault said that Derick Brassard is "a game time decision..and looking good in my estimation"; J.T. Miller will replace the suspended Daniel Carcillo in the Rangers lineup and is ready "to do whatever I can" after being "the biggest fan up (in the press box)" while being a healthy scratch for most of the post-season so far.

Those are the things that will most impact tonight's Game Four, after which the Rangers will either hold a 3-1 series lead heading into the fifth game Tuesday in Montreal, or the series will be all even two games apiece with the road team having won all four games, but the Canadiens having grabbed the two most recent contests.

However what will grab the headlines more are the quotes provided by Vigneault, who responded to a series of questions about topics that clearly irritated him, starting with Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien screaming at Rangers assistant Ulf Samuelsson to leave the stands during Habs practice at The Garden on Saturday and then claiming afterwards that there is a "gentleman's agreement" that teams do not watch another's practice during the playoffs.

"Well, we were treated very unfairly yesterday," Vignault said of the incident. "There is no rule. There was no agreement between both teams. What happened yesterday was uncalled for. Without a doubt my staff handled it with a lot of class, just like our team, play whistle to whistle, don't get involved with the other stuff. We're very lucky it didn't escalate."

Vigneault also addressed Therrien's comments from a day earlier that the Canadiens know where Brassard is injured.

"Let's put it this way, I hope nothing happens to Brass, the player," offered the Rangers coach. "Michel could be in trouble."

It was out of character for Vigneault to fire back even when prompted. He has maintained his cool throughout these playoffs--and all season really--with Henrik Lundqvist just yesterday again praising Vigneault's calm demeanor and leadership.

Clearly, though, his friend Therrien--and Therrien's team--have struck a raw never of Vigneault's.

"I think (Therrien) said prior to the series, for this two-week period, we're not really friends," stated Vigneault. "He's probably right."


As for Miller, he is set to make his first appearance in the conference final series. He has appeared in three other playoff games this spring--two against the Flyers and one against the Penguins. Miller has recorded two assists in those three games, so far, and is excited to get back in the lineup tonight.

"It's a big opportunity and I am ready for it," stated Miller. "I've been studying the games (when scratched) because there is always something to learn. Crazy things happen in the playoffs with guys getting hurt, so I have prepared myself to be ready to play. I'm the biggest fan up (in the press box), but I am also being a professional, being positive, being a good teammate, and being ready for when my opportunity comes."

The 21 year-old Miller likely will skate with Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett on the fourth line. He admitted to some nerves heading into this crucial Game Four tonight.

"I don't want the nerves to get to me too much, it's my first time playing in a conference final," offered Miller. "I'm going to try and act professional, try and take like a normal game, I guess, but that'll be hard to do. A win tonight and we're that much closer to the Cup finals; but I'm not looking too far ahead. I'm just worried about my first shift right now."