Cam Cole: Rangers’ Alain Vigneault on quiet road to playoff success

 

Coach is well versed with the positives, and negatives, of post-season agitators

 
 
 
 
New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault stands behind his bench during the first period of Game 4 of their opening-round NHL playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. The Rangers won 2-1 in overtime to take a 3-1 lead in the series.
 
 

New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault stands behind his bench during the first period of Game 4 of their opening-round NHL playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. The Rangers won 2-1 in overtime to take a 3-1 lead in the series.

Photograph by: Gene J. Puskar, AP

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NEW YORK — Alain Vigneault says he wasn’t screaming at the officials Wednesday night because Pittsburgh’s Max Lapierre had just faked an injury to his face after being shoved in the chest.

He was livid because he had three wingers and no centre on the ice for the faceoff and the referee wasn’t allowing him to change lines.

That’s not to say the New York Rangers coach wasn’t angry about a penalty to Dominic Moore where none was warranted. Of course he was.

So was anyone not intimately connected to the Penguins who had access to video of Lapierre’s outrageous embellishment.

He’s just not making a big deal of it, for now.

Unlike the Rangers’ rivals from Long Island — who are still boiling mad at Washington’s unguided missile, Tom Wilson, for his hit on Islanders defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky in Game 4 of their series — Vigneault is taking the road less travelled.

The quiet road.

Maybe it’s because he coached Lapierre both in junior and with the Vancouver Canucks, and has seen the act many, many times. Seen it work, and seen it backfire.

Maybe it’s because the Rangers don’t have a notorious provocateur of their own in the lineup.

But more likely, it’s because he knows the officials have seen the video, too. And though there is a place for an agitator in any lineup, in regular season or playoffs, there are lines it is dangerous to cross.

“You know, there’s some use to that,” Vigneault conceded Thursday, back at Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers, up 3-1 in games, have a chance to eliminate the Pens on Friday.

“In today’s game, though, where (someone) sort of embarrassed the officials on that play there … I think the league is trying to set a standard on that, and they’ve taken notice of that.”

“The way the referees are judged now,” Rangers forward Tanner Glass said, “they’re going to look at that tape and see (Lapierre) acting like that, and next time when you do hook him, he’s not getting that call.

“You embarrass the referees, they don’t like it. They have a tough job. It’s hard enough without us throwing our heads and this and that. If you respect them, they respect you back.”

Glass also played for Vigneault in Vancouver, where Alex Burrows and Lapierre and Ryan Kesler were all consummate chirpers, all hated by opponents, all double-edged swords who over time alienated so many officials, they were quietly put on a sort of thespians’ blacklist.

Asked how long Burrows has paid the price for his early histrionics, Vigneault muttered: “Long time.”

On the Island, the 6-foot-4 Wilson’s hit on Visnovsky, who’s optimistically listed as 5-foot-10, drew an interference penalty and that was probably the right call, even though it likely concussed the Islander D-man.

It was a brutal hit by a young player who already has a reputation for reckless acts resulting in injuries, but what really has the Isles’ shorts in a knot is that Caps’ Brooks Laich went on radio Wednesday and acknowledged that a hit like Wilson’s was good for momentum.

“And what it did was Visnovsky got knocked out of the game,” Laich said. “That puts them down to five D, in the second period, which — with the way we play with a heavy forecheck, a grinding forecheck, big forwards that finish our checks — playing with six defencemen is tough enough. But playing with five is even more difficult.

“So it’s a quote-unquote good penalty to take. We kill the penalty off, we get momentum and now we can really start to lean on their defence corps with only five guys left.”

The Islanders’ reaction to those comments, which may have been unwise but were hardly untrue, was that of a team trying to rebound from an emotional home-ice loss.

“[Wilson] went in to hurt our guy, obviously,” defenceman Thomas Hickey said. “You know, Lubo’s a 5-foot-10 guy with a head injury, and you go and make a hit like that.”

Well, to be fair, a player doesn’t take an opponent’s medical history into consideration in the half-second before deciding to run into him. Also, every team — including the Isles, whose fourth line of Cal Clutterbuck and friends has been hitting everything that moves — knows there is value in punishment and agitation … up to a point.

“If the other team lets it get to them, it can be a huge advantage,” Glass said, addressing the Lapierre problem. “But it’s also nice to have a guy in our room who can say: ‘Hey, that’s what he wants. The minute we engage, whether you think you have a good comeback or not … it’s not worth it.’

“We talked about it before the series. You can just see: the minute the whistle blows he’s right in someone’s kitchen.

“Some guys are better at looking away than others.”

Alain Vigneault, whose team is ahead, but only by an inch in any given game, is looking away.

And hoping his team follows suit.

ccole@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/rcamcole

 
 
 
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New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault stands behind his bench during the first period of Game 4 of their opening-round NHL playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. The Rangers won 2-1 in overtime to take a 3-1 lead in the series.
 

New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault stands behind his bench during the first period of Game 4 of their opening-round NHL playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. The Rangers won 2-1 in overtime to take a 3-1 lead in the series.

Photograph by: Gene J. Puskar, AP

 
New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault stands behind his bench during the first period of Game 4 of their opening-round NHL playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. The Rangers won 2-1 in overtime to take a 3-1 lead in the series.
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and teammate Maxim Lapierre are sprawled in the goal crease after the overtime goal by the New York Rangers’ Kevin Hayes to end Game 4 of their opening-round NHL playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. The Rangers won 2-1 to take a 3-1 lead in the series.
Defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky of the New York Islanders leaves the game after taking a heavy hit from Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals in the second period of Game 4 of their opening-round NHL playoff series at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 in Uniondale, N.Y.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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