When the New York Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals in their Game 7 encounter to earn the right to play the New Jersey Devils for a chance at the Stanley Cup, hockey pundits immediately began to analyze the series to find who ultimately had enough of an edge to win the series.
Did anyone seriously think the two head coaches would have a bigger rivalry than the players on the ice? After Game 4 last night, that's exactly what happened.
With the game 3-0 and already out of hand for the Blueshirts toward the end of the third period, sparsely used center—and former New Jersey Devil—Mike Rupp decided to engage in some goon-like behavior. He started by being overly aggressive on the faceoff, delivering a hit on Peter Harrold that was penalized. It ended with Rupp shoving Martin Brodeur in his crease.
Both coaches were then seen on the bench arguing at each other, forcing NBC's Pierre McGuire to mute his microphone to prevent any obscenities from being on the air. John Tortorella and Pete DeBoer, who have no love for each other, have become part of the series—whether they want to be or not.
The rivalry between coaches started way back on March 19 after a line brawl between both teams opened a game. After the fights ended, both coaches were seen barking at one another. In their post-game press conferences, the war of words began. Katie Strang of ESPNNewYork.com reported DeBoer called Tortorella a hypocrite for sending out his physical players to start the game, while Torts re-torted by saying DeBoer should just shut up.
The words continued after Game 3 when Tortorella accused DeBoer's Devils of laying on the ice to get calls and were utilizing pick plays during their power plays to score goals illegally, according to Mark Everson of the New York Post. When DeBoer was asked to respond to Tortorella's comments, he did so with one word: "comical," according to Andrew Gross of The Record.
After Game 4, both coaches took the high road, declining to comment on their personal exchange of words. However, depending on how you view it, the damage has been done, and the coaches have become bigger than the series being played out.
There's no doubt the tension between Tortorella and DeBoer adds another captivating layer to an already intense, passionate hockey series. But, there's too much hanging in the balance—mainly a chance at the Stanley Cup—to add a sideshow.
This series, as predicted, has been a battle and a wonderful display of hockey. The Devils have been the better team, but the heroics of Henrik Lundqvist, Dan Girardi and Chris Kreider have kept the Blueshirts in the series that now heads back to Madison Square Garden for a pivotal Game 5.
However, all you'll hear about today is the rivalry between Tortorella and DeBoer—and that's a shame to the players laying it all on the line for a chance at the Cup.
The playoffs are about the two teams, not the coaches' disdain for one another.