- Last Updated: 2:35 AM, February 19, 2013
- Posted: 12:27 AM, February 19, 2013
There’s no sentiment in hockey.
For when Brandon Prust, a heart-and-soul Ranger who was one of John Tortorella’s favorite players during the winger’s stint on Broadway, returns to the Garden tonight wearing the Canadiens’ No. 8, this is what the coach yesterday said he will see:
“A guy in a Montreal uniform.”
Prust was more than a guy in a Rangers uniform for his two-plus years here before leaving as a free agent last summer when the Canadiens came through with a staggering four-year, $10 million offer that connotes his perceived value as a teammate.
This is the winner of the 2010-11 Steven McDonald Award for extra effort. This is the individual who sacrificed his body for teammates, who would engage in fisticuffs at the drop of a glove, often initiating as early as possible against as tough an opponent within reach in order to energize his team.
“He’s a funny guy, a good player who helped us a lot on the penalty kill and who takes a lot of pain for the group,” said Henrik Lundqvist. “What stands out to me is how hard he works and how he puts his body on the line for the team.
“I respect that a lot. He has a big heart.”
It’s no stretch to suggest the Rangers won last year’s first round against the Senators when Prust challenged and fought bullying tormentor Chris Neil late in the first period of Game 6 in Ottawa with the Blueshirts down in the series 3-2 and down in the match 1-0 — before rallying to take both that one and then Game 7 three nights later at the Garden.
Question is, which Ranger will Prust challenge tonight in an attempt to ignite the remade Canadiens, who come into the Garden at 10-4-1, four points up on the 8-5-1 Blueshirts?
“If he has a chance to run me over early, I’m sure he will,” said Brian Boyle, Prust’s erstwhile roommate and linemate. “He’s going to play hard, I’m going to play hard, and stuff like that happens all the time.
“If it does, it could be pretty interesting.”
Change is the staple of the NHL’s cap world. Even with a young core, the Rangers underwent substantial change up front in the off-season.
“I think that ‘missed’ is the right word to use describing [Prust], but it’s not like life can’t go on without him,” Brad Richards said. “Anytime a guy like that leaves who stands up for his teammates, competes at such a high level and kills penalties the way he does, of course it’s going to be a tough hole to fill, but that’s what pro sports is about — the ability to change and adapt and evolve.
“We have younger guys who needed and are being given the chance to grow. Ash [Arron Asham] has taken a lot of his role, and he has more talent than people realize.
“Prustie was a very important guy here. No disrespect meant, though, but life goes on.”
The Rangers sought to keep Prust, offering as much as a three-year deal worth approximately $6 million, but did not believe it was prudent to try to match the Montreal offer that blew every other suitor out of the water.
“As a friend I was very happy for him that he got the contract but as a teammate I was sad to see him go,” Lundqvist said. “It’s a short career, so you have to look out for yourself, but it is never fun to see a teammate leave.”Follow @NYPostsports