NEW YORK -- Considering the bubbling cauldron of venom that is the rivalry between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, it's almost surprising that it took four games for it spill over onto the ice during the Eastern Conference Finals.
It started during Game 4 with Devils rookie Adam Henrique and Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who had a combined one fight during the regular season, dropping the gloves. Later, Rangers captain Ryan Callahan and Devils sniper Ilya Kovalchuk exchanged words and sticks after a whistle. It came to a full boil with the Devils leading 3-0 in the third period when the Rangers' Mike Rupp hit goaltender Martin Brodeur in the upper chest and jaw with a gloved punch.
With the best-of-seven series deadlocked at 2-2 and Game 5 set for Wednesday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS), both teams agreed they need to leave the overwhelming emotions at the door when they take the ice in their biggest games of the season.
"I don't feel like it's anything I need to let go or the team needs to let go," Rupp said. "We're focused on a three-game series and we have two at home, so we're confident in that and we faced that the first two rounds. We're going to go about it the same way."
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Rupp didn't talk about the hit on Brodeur after Game 4, but said Tuesday after practice that it wasn't premeditated and was just a reactionary move.
"I just responded in that moment," Rupp said. "That was that. Nothing else going on there besides that. Those things happen in this game. There's really not much more than that. In those two seconds, no, I don't have time to think about anything. It's just a reaction. I actually thought we had been playing pretty well in the second period and in stretches of the third. It's just one of those things."
The vitriol leaked from the ice to the benches after Rupp hit Brodeur, then dropped the on-rushing Steve Bernier to the ice like a sack of day-old donuts. Devils coach Peter DeBoer and Rangers coach John Tortorella began shouting at one another, much like they did in the final regular-season meeting in which a six-man brawl occurred after the opening faceoff.
Both coaches were mum about the exchange after the game, but DeBoer admitted Tuesday that the incident involving Rupp got under his skin.
"I think emotion takes over," DeBoer said when asked if he was defending his players. "I don't know the word 'defend,' but took offense at what happened on the ice, and that was my outlet, right or wrong."
Brodeur, who jokingly said he's glad to know he can take a punch from Rupp, is putting Game 4 behind him and readying himself for a passionate crowd in Game 5.
"It's all forgotten. It's the playoffs," Brodeur said. "I think you need to put everything in check, and what happened in one game usually doesn't carry in the other ones. But we know that it's going to be emotional. It's a hostile environment in the Garden. So they're going to try to be a little more physical the way they were late in the game there, and we have to do what we do and not worry about anything else, and just go in there and win the hockey game."
One reason neither team expects the third-period antics from Game 4 to carry into Game 5 is the Rangers began their campaign of undisciplined hockey once they found themselves down by three goals. With a clean slate, it's highly unlikely the emotions will get out of control once again.
"I think a lot had to do with the scenario," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "You won't see anything like that in the first period. A lot of it is dictated by the score and how the game develops and unravels. I don't expect it to be a dirty series by any means going forward."
"That plays into it, too -- they're up three with 10 minutes to go, so you see guys get a little more emotional," Callahan said. "If it's a one-goal game, it's different."
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