NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur has heard the cat calls and has graciously dealt with all those naysayers who claim he may have lost a step or two since the good old days.
But, make no mistake, the fire in those veins still percolates in the heat of battle.
That was quite evident on Monday in Game 4 against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final, when he turned aside 28 shots, notched an assist and even took left hand to the chops for good measure, in leading the Devils to a 4-1 victory at the Prudential Center.
On the offensive side, Devils captain Zach Parise scored a pair of goals, including one into an empty net, and had an assist to help his team even this best-of-seven series, 2-2. The Devils opened an early lead on first-period goals by Bryce Salvador and Travis Zajac.
Brodeur not only also notched his fourth assist of the playoffs -- the most by any goalie in a postseason -- but showed plenty of discipline 6:18 into the third after taking an unprovoked left-handed fist to the chest from former teammate Mike Rupp with his team holding a 3-0 lead.
"I was just minding my own business, for real," Brodeur said. "But I never really yap at anybody, especially not him, because he's so big. He just kind of turned around and I guess he was pumped up and wanted to get somebody and I guess I was the first target for him to hit me. It's unfortunate that somebody has a right to go out and kind of sucker you like that, but we they got a four-minute penalty and it killed time for us to win the game.
"Rupp or no Rupp, it doesn't matter. I didn't expect it. I never got punched like that in my career."
Said Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk: "I don't know what was going through his mind. But I'm pretty sure he will apologize."
The punch also triggered a chain of scuffles on the ice -- and yet another war of choice words from Devils coach Pete DeBoer and Rangers coach John Tortorella.
The coaches were actually leaning over their respective benches, pointing at each other.
DeBoer was asked about the verbal altercation after the game.
"This isn't about John and I," DeBoer said. "This is about the guys on the ice, so I don't have anything to say about that."
Said Tortorella: "I'm not going to answer any questions on that. Thank you."
The Devils will now look to take their first lead in the series on Wednesday, when Game 5 is staged before another packed house at Madison Square Garden.
"This is not chess, this is hockey. It's a man's game," said Kovalchuk. "We were more hungry [on Monday] and we got a jump on them. It's great battle and we can't wait to continue [on Wednesday]."
Rupp received four minutes for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct for his infraction. Ryan Carter and Stu Bickel each received two minutes for roughing and 10-minute misconducts.
Brodeur, who was making his 186th straight playoff start, had his shutout bid snapped 13:55 into the third when Ruslan Fedotenko connected for his first of the playoffs.
By that time, however, the Devils had already did most of the damage.
Parise's power-play goal 2:41 into the third gave the home team a 3-0 advantage. Adam Henrique won an offensive-zone draw to Kovalchuk, who snapped a quick shot on Lundqvist. Parise, who was too upset to speak with the media following his team's 3-0 loss in Game 3 on Saturday, then jammed home the rebound to notch his first goal in six games. Parise would hit into an empty net with 1:29 remaining and the Rangers pressing.
"I think some people are making a big deal out of nothing, really," Parise said. "But it was the same. The puck happened to go in tonight and that's the difference. These games are so tight, and when you get the opportunities, you want to put them in and last game we didn't … I didn't."
Parise was certainly a man on a mission in Game 4.
"Your best players have to be your best players," DeBoer said. "I know it's cliché, but it's critical this time of year and I knew [Parise] would respond. He was playing well, getting opportunities. I thought he had some really good chemistry tonight with [Zajac and Dainius Zubrus]."
Unlike their Game 3 performance, when they dropped a 3-0 decision following a poor third-period performance, the Devils put in a full 60-minute assault on Lundqvist. The Rangers' goaltender finished with 26 saves, but it wasn't enough.
With the loss, the Rangers fell to 0-7 in the postseason when entering a game with a series lead.
"Am I worried?" asked Tortorella. "All I'm concerned about is the next game. We need to answer the proper way. That's the only thing I'm concerned about right now, how we're going to answer. And we've done it all playoffs."
Tortorella benched defenseman Michael Del Zotto after one shift totaling 1:40 in the second period after a horrible giveaway to David Clarkson. It's possible Del Zotto may not have been totally focused following the passing of his grandmother on Saturday. The Rangers' defenseman, who did play in the third period, found out about her passing after his team's 3-0 victory in Game 3.
"It was a struggle for him … he hasn't had many games like that this year," Tortorella said. "He's a big part of our club. He'll bounce back."
The Rangers did pick up the pace and actually outshot the Devils, 11-9, in the middle period, but Brodeur was there every time.
"We got away from our game a little in the second period and we gave those guys a little life," Zajac said. "[Brad] Richards and [Marian] Gaborik began skating hard and making plays, but Marty was lights out. He's been like that throughout the playoffs and I'm glad he had the game he had. He kept us in it and gave us a chance to win."
New York's Chris Kreider had a great look from the left circle at 5:34 when his slap shot was turned away by Brodeur's left pad. Gaborik had another good opportunity at 9:31 off a snap shot from 30 feet away, but Brodeur ate that up as well for a stoppage.
The Devils came out of the gate flying in the opening 20 minutes, receiving goals from Salvador and Zajac, while not allowing a shot on goal until 9:39 remained. The third line of Alexei Ponikarovsky, Jacob Josefson and Clarkson certainly provided plenty of energy in not only jump-starting the team, but the hometown faithful.
Salvador's third goal of the postseason came off a harmless-looking wrist shot from the top of the left circle that beat a screened Lundqvist at the 8:10 mark.
Ponikarovsky collected a pass from Clarkson along the half boards before dishing to Salvador at the point. Salvador, who now has nine points in 16 playoff games, had nine points in 82 regular-season games.
The first goal on home ice for the Devils in this series was followed by the first fight at 9:26 when Henrique dropped the gloves with Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in front of Lundqvist.
Zajac would extend the Devils lead to 2-0 at 11:59 when he converted a picturesque 2-on-1 with Parise for his first goal in seven games. Parise beat Del Zotto along the right-wing boards before skating into the right circle and feathering a pass underneath Dan Girardi to Zajac at the left hash.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mike_morreale