Dave Stubbs: Deep playoff run makes exit more painful, Habs’ Prust says

 

 
 
 
 
Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist shakes hands with Canadiens’ Brandon Prust after defeating Montreal 1-0 in Game Six to win the Eastern Conference final at Madison Square Garden on Thursday in New York City.
 
 

Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist shakes hands with Canadiens’ Brandon Prust after defeating Montreal 1-0 in Game Six to win the Eastern Conference final at Madison Square Garden on Thursday in New York City.

Photograph by: Mike Stobe, Getty Images

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It was at some point in the third period of Thursday’s Game 6 against the New York Rangers, sitting on the Canadiens bench, that Brandon Prust heard the chant growing louder in Madison Square Garden:

“Prusty sucks! Prusty sucks!”

Of course, Rangers fans would not think a great deal of the Canadiens forward, who in the opening minutes of Game 3 had fractured the jaw of New York centre Derek Stepan with a savage open-ice check, earning himself a two-game suspension.

That Prust had been a hugely popular blue-collar Rangers winger over 190 games between 2009-12, and another 24 in the playoffs, did nothing to earn him a mulligan.

(On the Internet, you’ll even find one New York fan trying to torch a Prust-nameplated Rangers jersey with a lighter and making a fool of himself when it won’t catch fire.)

“Whether it’s chanted for good reasons or bad reasons, not many people can say they’ve had their name chanted at MSG,” Prust said with a laugh Sunday. “I didn’t mind it at all, it was pretty cool. Just means I’m doing my job out there.”

The consensus was that Rangers fans were using Prust’s nickname, which adds the “y.”

“I thought I just heard: ‘Prust sucks,’ but some of the guys were saying it was ‘Prust you suck,’ ” he said, laughing again. “Hey, whatever.”

Whatever, indeed — the chant definitely had three syllables, so choose your insult.

Rangers fans then got a real charge out of Prust’s slashing penalty 14:18 into the third period, their chant louder still.

Stepan’s broken jaw was no laughing matter for Prust, who wasn’t penalized on the play and didn’t realize until the next morning that he had seriously injured his friend and former teammate, who finished the game.

When that news broke the morning after the game, Stepan undergoing surgery later that day for the insertion in his jaw of a steel plate, Prust sent the Ranger a text message of apology.

On Saturday afternoon, the eve of Game 4 and by now suspended for Games 4 and 5, Prust told an MSG news conference that Stepan’s reply to that text “was short.”

“I had texted Derek after I found out I broke his jaw to tell him I felt bad and obviously never wanted to do that, that I had just wanted to get physical out there,” Prust said Sunday. “He replied that it’s all good, that he understood.

“But he saw my press-conference reference to his short reply and texted me again to say: ‘Prusty, man, I didn’t want to be short, I was in the hospital.’ ”

Stepan missed Game 4 in New York, but returned for Games 5 and 6, a plastic jaw-guard fitted to his helmet, and scored twice in the Rangers’ 7-4 Game 5 loss in Montreal.

At series end in a delirious MSG, the two players embraced in a gesture best described as being anti-Milan Lucic.

“When I reached (Stepan) in the line, I said: ‘Hey, man, I’m sorry,’ ” Prust said. “And he right away said: ‘Prusty, don’t worry about it.’

“I told him he looked tough with that thing on his helmet, wished him good luck in the final, stuff like that.”

Said Stepan in the victorious Rangers’ dressing room: “I understand Prust was trying to get a hit in. And I know Prust. I’ve played with him. I know what kind of player he is. He plays a hard game. He’s sorry, he felt bad, but that’s the way it is and we move on.”

Stepan is on a liquid diet for six weeks and will never again want to see a smoothie when he finally picks up a fork. Prust expects he’ll likely see his friend again in Florida at the end of the month at the wedding of the Rangers’ Brian Boyle.

By then, Stepan might be a Stanley Cup champion and Prust definitely will be training for the 2014-15 season.

He’ll be back at it earlier than usual, having missed 30 games this season with shoulder and rib injuries, sitting out the final 12 games of the schedule to heal for what would be his 13 games played in a 17-game playoff run.

Prust sat out the pair vs. New York with his suspension, but he didn’t miss Games 3 and 4 against Boston with an aggravation of a rib injury, as was widely speculated.

“Healthy scratch, a coach decision,” he said Sunday, Michel Therrien parking him in the press box for two games.

“I didn’t play very well in Game 2 and I knew it. I think (Therrien) was trying to wake me up and spark me and make me realize I wasn’t playing well.

“I know it was a tough decision for him and I was pretty upset about it, but I think in the end it was better for me. When I came back, I was playing better than at the start of the series.”

Prust watched his four games out of uniform from the press box, not from the dressing room as he might have in the regular season.

“During the playoffs, you want to feel the electricity of the building,” he said. “You can really see the plays and see how they break down and you can read what the opponent is doing, too.

“You can learn a lot from being up there. It also makes you feel a little more involved and you experience it all kind of like a fan.”

It was a longer post-season for Prust than last year’s five-game exit vs. Ottawa in the quarterfinals, missing the final game with a dislocated rib suffered in Game 4.

And going deeper in the playoffs makes the exit more painful, he said, physically and mentally.

“You can taste the Cup that much more. It’s that much closer when you lose later,” Prust said. “It’s tough. Everybody’s pretty down. If you’re going to go this far in the playoffs, the way we’re blocking shots …”

The Canadiens blocked 318 shots in 17 playoff games, an average of 18.7 per game. Their game high was 30 against the Bruins in Game 1 of that semifinal.

“It was a hard series vs. Boston,” Prust said. “We were fortunate to get through Tampa Bay quickly (a four-game quarter-final) and get a good rest. That really helped us.

“Yemmy (defenceman Alexei Emelin) was banged up and couldn’t play in the end. You see guys with a lot of ice on ankles and hands from blocking shots and stuff. When I went to the (2012) conference final with New York, it was very much the same — guys with ice all over, on knees, feet, hands, whatever.”

Prust expects to be working out again within a couple of weeks, back on the bike before weight training begins. That he missed so much playing time this season has spurred him to an earlier return.

“And summer is really short this year, so you’ve kinda got to get right at it,” he said.

On Saturday, instead of playing Game 7 at the Bell Centre, Canadiens players and coaches gathered at the arena for a team dinner and now many are dispersing to off-season homes.

Prust will attend next weekend’s Formula One Canadian Grand Prix — “Haven’t figured out tickets for that, I’ll find a scalper,” he joked (as if) — then will head back to his summer home in London, Ont., to organize his July 29 Prusty 4 Kids golf tournament, in support of his Kids Kicking Cancer program.

Shuttling from London to Montreal for a bit, out to Rivière du Loup, the family home of his girlfriend, Maripier Morin, and no doubt elsewhere, Prust expects it will be a quick, short, busy summer.

And if he sucks in New York, he’ll gladly inhale deeply for a few days now, considering a little of the season just past and a lot of what’s ahead.

Visit Prusty4Kids.ca to learn more about and to donate to Brandon Prust’s charity work

dstubbs@montrealgazette.com

Twitter: Dave_Stubbs

 
 
 
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Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist shakes hands with Canadiens’ Brandon Prust after defeating Montreal 1-0 in Game Six to win the Eastern Conference final at Madison Square Garden on Thursday in New York City.
 

Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist shakes hands with Canadiens’ Brandon Prust after defeating Montreal 1-0 in Game Six to win the Eastern Conference final at Madison Square Garden on Thursday in New York City.

Photograph by: Mike Stobe, Getty Images

 
Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist shakes hands with Canadiens’ Brandon Prust after defeating Montreal 1-0 in Game Six to win the Eastern Conference final at Madison Square Garden on Thursday in New York City.
Canadiens’ Brandon Prust signs souvenirs at the team’s training facility Saturday in Brossard. The Canadiens were eliminated by the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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