The hatred, or at least the blood, literally flowed on the ice. It carried over to a coaches’ postgame press conferences too.
“I guess in John’s world you can come into our building and start your tough guys, but we can’t do the same here,” New Jersey coach Pete DeBoer said of counterpart John Tortorella after the Rangers beat the Devils, 4-2, Monday night at the Garden.
“He either has short term memory loss or is a hypocrite,” DeBoer added.
With the win, the Rangers clinched a playoff berth and increased their conference and divisional lead over Pittsburgh to three points, 97-94. The Rangers are the second team in the NHL to qualify for the playoffs.
“We can’t worry about what other teams are doing,” said Dan Girardi. “It’s pretty cool [to clinch a playoff berth]. It’s a nice feeling knowing you’re going to be in the playoffs. It’s a different feeling for us.”
Girardi, Brandon Dubinsky, Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan scored goals for the Rangers.
The fireworks started before the game began as DeBoer had the line of Eric Boulton, Ryan Carter and Cam Janssen take the opening faceoff. Tortorella responded with a line of Mike Rupp, Stu Bickel and Brandon Prust. Bickel, normally a defenseman, switched places with Dubinsky.
“We were told that he used to play center,” Dubinsky said of Bickel. “I think maybe in his Minnesota days he won some key faceoffs for them. “
The fights commenced three seconds after the puck was dropped. Prust paired off with Janssen, Rupp tangled with Boulton and Bickel fought Carter, who was badly bloodied and had to be helped off the ice. He returned, but was limited to only 6:44 of ice time
Tortorella said he was pleased with the Rangers’ response, but passed on answering repeated questions about the fights and his visceral reaction to DeBoer’s lineup. Television cameras recorded the coach screaming epithets at the New Jersey bench.
The coach’s players, though, showed no compunction to talk about the fights.
“We all know that the opposing team gets first dibs on who their starting lineup is. It’s just a response to that,” said Rupp. “I think it’s pretty clear they want to try and do something there. It’s about responding. We just go with a lineup to kind of counter that.”
Sixty-eight seconds after the brawls concluded, Dubinsky opened the scoring with a one-timer off the rush for his eighth goal of the season. It gave the Rangers a lead they would never relinquish.
Dubinsky skated on a line with Ryan Callahan and Stepan. The American-bred line combined for two goals and four assists for six points and a plus-four rating.
“We’ve seen what [Brad Richards], [Marian Gaborik] and [Carl Hagelin] can do,” Dubinsky said. “It makes it easy [that he, Callahan and Stepan play a similar game]. Hopefully we can provide that scoring and that energy that we need to be successful.”
Girardi’s goal 33 seconds into the second period increased the Rangers’ lead to 2-0. Zuccarello’s power play marker at 7:33 of the second was the game-winner and his second in as many games. Stepan’s deflection at 18:50 of the third ended the game for all intents and purposes.
Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora scored in the second period for the Devils. Elias’s goal was his 25th of the season. The goal marked the seventh time in his career he has scored 25 or more goals in a season.
Martin Brodeur finished with 23 saves on 27 shots. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 20-of-22 shots.
The Rangers and Devils split the regular season series, with each team winning three games.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.