Derek Stepan left last night's Rangers 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh in the third period after a knee-on-knee hit by Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik. The team hasn't given an update on Stepan's status, but needless to say, an injury at this point in the season would be terrible news for the Rangers. (Make of this what you will, but Stepan was at least able to skate to the bench on his own power afterwards.) There was some question on the MSG broadcast as to whether Orpik intentionally stuck his leg out, but the defenseman was given a five-minute major for kneeing (and could face further discipline from NHL sheriff Brendan Shanahan). And after the game, John Tortorella sounded off not just on the hit itself, but on the Penguins organization, including its two biggest stars.
Said Tortorella: "It's a cheap, dirty hit," adding, "I wonder what would happen if we did it to their two whining stars." He called the Penguins "one of the most arrogant organizations in the league," saying that "they whine about this stuff all the time, and look what happens." And then, one final shot: "It's ridiculous, but they'll whine about something else over there, won't they? Starting with their two fucking stars."
Here's video of the coach's remarks, in case you missed them last night. (The expletive at the end is censored, in case you're viewing this in an environment that might not approve of such language.)
It's no surprise that Tortorella was angry about the hit itself, especially with the playoffs less than a week away. But he's also not the first person of late to criticize the Penguins' two biggest stars, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Earlier this week — in the wake of the wild game between the Flyers and Pens over the weekend — Philadelphia assistant coach Craig Berube called Crosby and Malkin "the two dirtiest players on their hockey team." And he had more still to say about Crosby: "This guy gets away with too much in my opinion, whines to the refs all day and all night. It’s a joke."
Mike Milbury had some controversial words for Crosby following that game, as well, sarcastically calling Crosby a "little goody two shoes," and also saying that "there's a little punk in Crosby." (Milbury would later apologize for his remarks, which included the phrase "I'd say screw him, hit him.")
Of course, none of this is anything that hasn't been said up in the blue seats for years. And again, it's no wonder Tortorella is angry here: Knee-on-knee contact can be incredibly dangerous. (As we've written before, one of the reasons this team has been successful this year is they've avoided serious injuries to their key forwards.) And so the events of last night's game — which didn't mean much to the Rangers, except in the race for the Presidents' Trophy — could have an impact on the team going forward, depending on the health of Stepan. That Tortorella referenced Crosby and Malkin (albeit not by name) suggests he'd already had issues with Pittsburgh and that this incident bothered him enough that he'd speak his mind with cameras rolling.
The playoffs begin next week, and there's no shortage of teams with whom the Rangers have bad blood. They could potentially play Pittsburgh, by the way, as soon as the second round.