The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils said all the politically correct words after Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals concluded Monday night, but make no mistake:
The war of words had gestated into simply a war.
“Two teams battling it out,” was Peter DeBoer’s assessment of the extracurricular activities that marked the Devils’ 4-1 win over the Rangers at the Prudential Center that evened the series at 2-2. Game 5 is Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Zach Parise scored twice in the third for New Jersey, while Bryce Salvador and Travis Zajac scored first-period goals. Ruslan Fedotenko scored in the third to get the Rangers to within 3-1, but that was all the comeback New York could muster.
Martin Brodeur made 28 saves for New Jersey while Henrik Lundqvist allowed three goals on 29 shots.
“You have two competitive teams. There’s a lot at stake. Battling to the buzzer,” DeBoer clichéd.
Both teams spent the evening exchanging cross words, cross-checks, and left-and-right crosses during post-whistle scrums. New Jersey totaled 23 penalty minutes while the Rangers finished with 43. Fourteen of the Rangers’ 43 penalty minutes were assessed to Mike Rupp after he sucker-punched Brodeur and Steve Bernier early in the third period with New York trailing 3-0. Rupp was given a pair of two-minute minors for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct.
“I was minding my own business,” Brodeur said of his former teammate’s act. “I never really yap at anybody, especially him, he’s so big. He just kind of turned around. I don’t know, I guess he was a little pumped up and wanted to get somebody, and I was the first target for him to hit me. It’s unfortunate that somebody has a right to go out and just kind of sucker you like that.
“Rupp doesn’t matter,” Brodeur added. “I never got punched like that in my career. First time. So, I don’t know, just things that happen in the playoff series and just happy I didn’t get hurt on it.”
Rupp declined comment after the game through a Rangers public-relations official.
The punch sparked a shouting match behind the benches between DeBoer and John Tortorella. It was the second behind-the-benches argument between the coaches this season. They also had exchanged pleasantries during a game-opening line brawl on March 19 at Madison Square Garden.
Neither coach would talk about Monday night’s incident when asked in their postgame news conferences.
“This isn’t about John and I. This is about the guys on the ice,” DeBoer said. “So I don’t have anything to say about that.”
“I’m not going to answer any questions on that,” Tortorella said.
The Rupp hit and subsequent war of words between the coaches was the main event in a game that Ryan Callahan termed, “chippy.”
Callahan and Ilya Kovalchuk were assessed roughing minors for a post-whistle scrum late in the second period. The New Jersey winger speared Callahan, who punched Kovalchuk in the back of the head in response. The two shouted at each during their penalty time, and came together for a shoving match at the end of the period.
“It’s playoff hockey,” Callahan said in a mostly empty visitors dressing room at the Prudential Center. “It’s a series. You play these guys every other night. I think it was one of those games.”
The fireworks began with a fight between the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh and Adam Henrique 9:26 into the first. The fight was McDonagh’s first in the NHL. Henrique, a rookie, had one previous fight on his record, a bout against Calgary right wing Jarome Iginla during the Devils’ 6-3 loss to the Flames on January 10.
“I think throughout a seven-game series both teams are bound to get frustrated at different things,” Parise said. “You have to ask them whether they were frustrated or not. But like Marty (Brodeur) said earlier, we’ve done a good job all playoffs of playing whistle to whistle and skating away from the scrums and things like that. Whether they were frustrated or not, I don’t know. But we did a good job of staying out of it.”