The old defenceman from Quebec City did his best to disguise his exuberance.
But those who know Alain Vigneault understand how proud and satisfied the New York Rangers head coach was to exit his old haunt, Rogers Arena, with a narrow 3-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.
In the waining seconds of the Rangers victory, emotions were high. Canucks forward Alex Burrows had just run dependable New York defencman Ryan McDonagh into the end boards, incurring a five-minute penalty as a result. Even though Rangers enforcer Dan Carcillo appeared to ask permission to exact a measure of revenge, Vigneault said "no, no, no."
A few moments later, Vigneault shook hands with his assistant coaches Scott Arniel, Ulf Samuelsson and Dan Lacroix and then walked through the tunnel to the Rangers dressing room.
"It's two points. We're battling to get in [the playoffs]. That's all it is," Vigneault said in his attempt to downplay the victory.
Maybe the timing was right for the Canucks to fire Vigneault last spring, even though he had led Vancouver to the 2011 Stanley Cup final, become the franchise's all-time leader in wins (313) and win percentage (.632), and steered Vancouver to six playoff appearances in seven seasons.
Maybe his time was up because after the Canucks dropped Games 6 and 7 to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final, they were bounced twice in the first round and won only once in nine post-season outings.
But when you're asked to move on it still stings, no matter how successful you've been. You want to show the old franchise that it made a wrong decision, and because of the way the Canucks have played in the last three months, it's fair to question Canucks general manager Mike Gillis or Vancouver ownership or whoever was responsible for the decision: Why did the Canucks replace Vigneault with John Tortorella?
Tortorella, of course, was the coach who fell out of favour with the Rangers, making this a unique situation, a proverbial coaching swap.
If the Canucks faithful already hadn't given up hope on a miraculous finish to somehow lasso a playoff spot, their fate was sealed with the Rangers win on Thursday. Plenty might point to the turning point to the Canucks downfall as occurring on Jan. 18, when Tortorella stormed into the Calgary Flames dressing room upset because Flames head coach Bob Hartley put three tough guys up front in his starting lineup and a line brawl ensued.
But the Canucks' downfall had begun a few weeks earlier after a 2-0 win over Calgary on Dec. 29. That win improved the Canucks to 29-11-6 and put them seven points clear of the ninth-place team in the West, the Dallas Stars.
Some injuries happened and the offence dried up and whatever Tortorella preached early on no longer was effective.
Meanwhile in the East, Vigneault likely wondered what he gotten himself into when the Rangers started 3-6-0 on the road as renovations to Madison Square Garden were completed.
The picture looked bleak in Blueshirts' land. But Vigneault kept teaching his defence-first game. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist came around and Vigneault's squad came around.
Vigneault and the Rangers are two points away from clinching a playoff spot. Even Martin St. Louis, the risky acquisition acquired at the trade deadline in the captain-for-captain trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning that sent Ryan Callahan the other way finally saw a breakthrough against the Canucks when St. Louis scored his first goal in a Rangers sweater, a shorthanded marker in the third period.
This wasn't the first time the 52-year-old Vigneault had returned to Vancouver since he was fired by the Canucks. The Rangers and Canucks butted heads in an exhibition game back on Sept. 26. So there was time to heal.
"For me, this is night and day compared to when we came in at training camp," Vigneault said before the game. "Training camp was a very emotional time for me. It was my first time back. Now, it's all about winning games. We're in a tough fight to get into the playoffs. We need all the points we can get."
Vigneault's team got the points. The Canucks did not. The Rangers will advance to the playoffs in a couple of weeks. The Canucks have some soul searching to do.
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