The hostilities that had simmered for the first three games of the Eastern Conference finals finally escalated to outright conflict Monday night.
Yet the Rangers and Devils both say what took place is history as both teams head into tonight’s Game 5 at the Garden with the series tied 2-2.
“I don’t think it’s anything I need to let go or our team needs to let go,” said Mike Rupp, who was involved in a notable skirmish when he took a shot at Martin Brodeur, after practice yesterday.
Although the Devils were off yesterday, Travis Zajac, Zach Parise, Martin Brodeur, Bryce Salvador and coach Pete DeBoer spoke with reporters.
Ryan McDonagh fought Adam Henrique in the first period, and Stu Bickel and Ryan Carter each earned 10-minute misconducts late in the game following Rupp’s jab to Brodeur. Ilya Kovalchuk and Ryan Callahan exchanged punches and shouts during a scrum in the second period that saw both assessed with roughing minors.
“We play each other so often and every game is a war against those guys,” Zajac said “So it’s easy to get emotionally involved in playing these guys. For me it was the first year. You have your leaders like Marty and Patty [Elias] and those guys and see how they compete against that team. It makes it easy to, like you said, get involved and hate that team.”
That the Atlantic Division rivals are separated by just 14 miles and the Hudson River certainly helps to ratchet up the mutual loathing. So, too, does cuffing a future Hall of Famer.
Midway through the third period, during one of the few shifts in which the Rangers were able to get the puck deep, Rupp steamrolled Peter Harrold with what appeared to be a hard, legal check. Rupp was called for roughing on the play.
As he skated around the net, he exchanged words with Brodeur before punching the Devils’ netminder. A fracas ensued that saw Rupp drop a flying Steve Bernier with a right hand while Bickel and Carter paired off.
Rupp had two stints with the Devils, including being a member of the franchise’s 2002-03 Stanley Cup championship-winning team. He also played for the Devils between the 2006-07 and 2008-09 seasons.
When Brodeur was asked about his former teammate after Game 4, he said, “Rupp doesn’t matter. I never got punched like that in my career. [I’m] just happy I didn’t get hurt.”
The incident sparked a shouting match between DeBoer and John Tortorella, with the Rangers coach forcefully and emphatically jabbing his index finger towards his counterpart.
The coaches elected not to speak about the episode after the game. Yesterday, DeBoer said “emotion takes over” when asked about the confrontation. He added that he “took offense at what happened on the ice, and that was my outlet, right or wrong.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.