Rangers and Devils Add New Chapter to Blood Feud with Opening Faceoff Line Brawl

Steve PopoloskiContributor IIMarch 20, 2012

Jim McIsaac/MCT
Jim McIsaac/MCT

Three seconds was all it took for the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils to renew hostilities, dropping the gloves for a 3-on-3 line brawl off the opening faceoff. The visiting Devils opted to start their fourth line of enforcers Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton, centered by Ryan Carter who re-arranged the nose of Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky in the last meeting between the teams March 6. Dubinsky subsequently missed the next two games with nose and sinus issues stemming from the fight.

So Rangers coach John Tortorella countered with his toughest three, forwards Michael Rupp and Brandon Prust and defenseman Stu Bickel, who would take the first faceoff of his NHL (and likely professional) career.

Tortorella could be seen yelling expletives at Devils coach Peter DeBoer as Brad Richards and his linemates entered the bench, and Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist later told ESPN Radio 1050 that "Tortorella was not happy when he saw who the Devils were starting and that he changed the Rangers starters in the locker room before the game." Any plan to start the Blueshirts top line was quickly altered and "Fight Night at the Garden" was booked.

Bickel was credited with a faceoff win, leaving him with a 100% career faceoff percentage, but neither he nor Carter were interested in playing the puck. Instead, they squared off just inside the Devils zone, as Rupp and Prust sized up Boulton and Janssen respectively. The rest is history, and the video tape tells the story.

The fights were the 9th, 10th and 11th between the two clubs this season, in their sixth and final meeting of the regular season. The teams fought in five of the six contests, and all were multi-fight games. Additionally, this was the third time there was a fight off the opening faceoff as Rupp and Janssen fought three seconds into the December 20 game in Newark, followed by Rupp and Prust versus Janssen and Boulton two seconds into the February 7 game at MSG.

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Opponents of so-called "staged fights" will likely cringe watching the above clips, but in a rivalry like Rangers-Devils, is there really a better way to set the tone of a hockey game? Especially following Dubinsky vs. Carter, and with DeBoer opting to start with a physical line, why not square off and settle things right away than let Boulton and Janssen (or conversely Rupp and Prust) run around the ice, taking runs at the skill players?

Or if a 3-on-3 brawl happened during game play, both teams would be short two players the rest of the game as per NHL rule 46.7 (secondary altercation).

These were not just fights for entertainment's sake, or for the name on the back of the sweater, but for their respective teams. To some extent, each of the fighters have a personal rivalry having played - and fought - so often this year, but this was all about the Devils coming into Madison Square Garden to make a statement and attempt to impose their physical will on the home team, and the Rangers making a stand against it.

Plus they exacted some revenge for the beating Dubinsky took earlier this month. It also set the tone for an exciting, uptempo and physical game - the Rangers were credited with 41 hits to the Devils 23 - and excluding Bryce Salvador's 10 minute misconduct each team had 23 PIM. The game stayed close throughout, before Derek Stepan's tip in with just 1:10 left in regulation sealed the 4-2 victory for New York.

Should the two clubs meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs, it will certainly be a series to remember, after possibly the best season series rivalry since the lockout of 2004/05. The Rangers ultimately edged out the series with three wins, two regulation losses and one shootout loss against their Hudson River rivals. If they don't cross paths in the playoffs, the first meeting of 2012/13 will certainly be can't miss TV.


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