MONTREAL — While fans in both New York and Montreal are upset at the rough treatment goalies Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price have endured in their five playoff meetings so far, neither the Rangers nor Canadiens seem to see it as a big deal.
Lundqvist and Price have been outstanding in their NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final thus far but both have also had to put up with heavy bumping in the crease.
It even led to a rare playoff fight between New York's Brendan Smith and Montreal's Andrew Shaw in the first period Thursday night after a pileup in the Rangers crease.
"It's a message but I'm not out there trying to send a message," Smith said Friday before the Rangers' return to New York. "The thing is, we're trying to take care of Hankie (Lundqvist).
"He's playing really well so they're trying to get their bumps and we have to protect him. I think they kind of crossed the line a little bit there. Those things happen. Shaw is a warrior. He tries to go to the front of the net and I've got to make sure that can't happen. We want to protect our goalie. We don't want to see him get hurt from guys jumping or falling on him. Sometimes you have to answer the bell."
New York leads the best-of-seven series 3-2 after Mika Zibanejad's overtime goal Thursday night gave the Rangers a 3-2 victory. They can advance to the second round Saturday night with a home-ice victory.
After Montreal's 4-3 overtime win in Game 2, it was the Habs who took heat for not jumping to Price's defence when he was run over in his crease by Rick Nash. But Canadiens' players and coach Claude Julien downplayed the incident, saying it was just a good player going hard to the net.
Montreal fans are sensitive to the issue because Price was knocked out of the opening game of the 2014 Eastern Conference final when the Rangers' Chris Kreider crashed into him.
Nothing that extreme has happened so far, but both goalies have had to deal with forwards invading the crease. Sometimes the referees call it, but like with most playoff infractions, usually they let it go.
Smith, acquired from Detroit on Feb. 28 for two draft picks, said nastiness in front of the net is just part of playoff hockey. The trick is to get the job done while avoiding anything that will give the other side a power play.
"Both teams are walking the line," he said. "There are a lot of guys who kind of waver, myself included.
"I've had refs say 'You're on the line now.' I understand that. They have (Brendan) Gallagher, Shaw. They're always on that line but you have to make sure you don't cross it because you can't give up power plays. That's when you get hurt. Our team's been doing a pretty good job of that.
"Sometimes you've just got to suck it up. It's kind of that old mentality _ take a number and figure it out later."
That has been the message from Rangers coach Alain Vigneault as well.
"In this game, you learn that you've just got to play," he said. "Hand pass goal, go out and play.
"Too many men on the ice goal, just go out and play. Don't worry about it. Just keep playing. That's what we're telling our guys. Skate, pass, shoot. That's what we're trying to do."
The Rangers are expecting even more intensity from the Canadiens on Saturday night. All five previous games have been close, with a bounce or a hit goalpost making a difference. Montreal had an edge in play in Game 3 in New York but the Rangers had it in Game 4.
Back in Montreal, the Canadiens were on top for most of the first two periods but once rookie Brady Skein tied it late in the second, the Rangers took over. They outshot the home side 10-3 in overtime until Zibanejad ended it at 14:22.
"It's still amazing," Zibanejad said the following morning. "It's still one of the most important and greatest goals I've scored.
"But now it's done and we have to get ready for the next game. We put ourselves in a really good spot and gave ourselves a great opportunity to close this out on home ice and not have to come back."