Words were unnecessary as Ryan McDonagh wore on his face all anyone needed to know about what had transpired at Madison Square Garden yesterday afternoon.
The blood had not dried from the cut on McDonagh’s right cheek, a reminder of the five-on-five gang fight immediately after the Rangers defeated the Bruins, 4-3. The win was the Rangers’ third straight over the Bruins and fifth-straight dating back to last season.
“Just emotions run high. It’s good stuff,” McDonagh said of the clash. McDonagh and Milan Lucic exchanged gloved punches after Boston’s left wing had hit the Rangers defenseman high and from behind to spark the scrum.
“I was trying to get the puck and he punched me. I punched him back,” Lucic said matter-of-factly. “And that generally leads to a scrum.”
That both teams exchanged right crosses and cross words at the conclusion of the 60-minute litmus test was not surprising. Nor will it surprise if these two teams find themselves embroiled in a playoff series in May.
What remains to be determined is whether brawn or ability reigns supreme.
While both teams got after one another physically, it was skill that decided this game. All four of the Rangers’ goals showcased elements of that, whether it be Ruslan Fedotenko’s deft deflection at 5:05 to open the scoring or Carl Hagelin flying up the left wing boards before curling behind Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas and banking a shot off of Greg Zanon 1:10 later.
Marian Gaborik broke a 2-2 tie 3:14 into the third with his 32nd of the year on a play that began with an odd-man rush and ended with Michael Del Zotto, Brad Richards and the sniper creating chances around Thomas. Derek Stepan whipped the game-winning goal past Thomas 9:07 after Gaborik’s goal. Benoit Pouliot, Jordan Caron and David Krejci scored for Boston.
“We have confidence in this room. We didn’t panic after the second period when they took over,” Marian Gaborik said. “We found a way to score one [more] goal than them.”
Yet for the skill exhibited by both teams it is easy to imagine that the first period of Sunday’s nationally televised matinee brought tears of joy to Don Cherry’s eyes. Not solely due to the face that the Bruins dressed seven Ontarians, while six donned the Rangers’ Heritage sweater. That was a pleasant addendum for CBC’s often erroneous lecturer of all things hockey.
Rather, the overriding themes of the initial 20 minutes were how compelling and bizarre it was. There had been an equal amount of goals scored and fights — three — when both teams retired to their respective dressing rooms with 2:53 remaining to allow maintenance workers to repair a broken pane of glass behind the Seventh Avenue goal.
The first of the bouts was a wild, throw-bombs-from-the-hip draw between Mike Rupp and AHL call-up Lane MacDermid 2:30 into the match. That fight was promptly followed by Lucic’s decision of Brandon Prust, then Stu Bickel’s battering of Gregory Campbell.
“I have a lot of respect for Prustie. He’s a team guy, he’ll try to do something to try to get his team going. It seemed like the right time of the game to go,” Lucic said.
Even though Rangers general manager Glen Sather did not mention the Bruins by name when he met with the media Monday night to discuss the acquisition of John Scott from Chicago, they were among the teams the general manager was thinking about when he explained that his team has “games this month against some pretty rugged teams. He’s a real good factor to stop any of that kind of fooling around that happens in this time of year. If a situation gets to where someone gets hurt, [we] have another asset.”
Scott dressed in place of Ryan Callahan, who has missed three straight games due to a bruised foot suffered in last Monday’s 1-0 win over the Devils, and played 8:02.
Still, in the final moments, it was not brute force that John Tortorella had defending a one-goal lead. Instead the coach decided on the sextet of Hagelin, Richards, Gaborik, McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Henrik Lundqvist (30 saves) to be on the ice.
Skill, not muscle, was the choice.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.