My grandma, Ethel Friedman, had a line she used to umpire sports disputes.
She'd step between the combatants and utter the deathless words: "There are three sides to every story; your side, my side and the truth."
When it comes to settling the Devils-Rangers filibusters, my way of getting a compromise - assuming such a feat is possible - is to have a fan representative of each team say his or her piece.
So, here I present one from a long time Devils fan and Wednesday one from the Blueshirt side. First, we start with the home team.
George Falkowski is the perfect New Jersey spokesman. He's a native of the Garden State who became a Devils supporter early in his life. From there he became a television star and Emmy Award-winner.
He has been teaching college in the state for years and never has stopped rooting for the skaters who call Prudential Center their home.
When I asked George to state his case vis-a-vis the rivalry, the following is what he told me:
STRANGE BUT TRUE DEPT: My first hockey game was a Devils-Rangers matchup 19 months before the first actual Devils-Rangers matchup! March 11, 1981 at Madison Square Garden, by happenstance the Rangers hosted the Colorado Rockies just hours after Chico Resch had been traded by the New York Islanders to Colorado. Steve Tambellini, also acquired in the Resch deal, popped the game-winner past Steve Baker with 1:01 to play and the Future Devils won, 4-3.
FAST FORWARD: October 8, 1982: The second game in Devils history, coming off of a 3-3 tie against Pittsburgh three nights earlier, was a sellout at the Brendan Byrne Arena. This was the first time I ever had a rooting interest against a New York team. The back-and-forth of the fans matched the play on the ice. Resch was in the net, Tambellini scored the game's first goal and the Devils were up, 1-0, after one. It seemed like the same script from the game at the Garden I'd seen two springs earlier.
The teams traded four goals in the second, capped when Merlin Malinowski camped out near John Davidson's backdoor and buried what would be the eventual winner. The brand-new Devils fans erupted with glee. The third period was full of scraps and instant bad blood for the new border war. The Devils hung on and a hockey team was blooming in New Jersey.
SIDE NOTE: Malinowski had shown a goal scorer's touch in those early games and had become my first favorite Devil (for obvious reasons). Naturally, he was traded to Hartford about a week later.
November 3, 1985: Was it an historical game? Maybe not. But any Devils fan at that time remembers it oh-so-well: The Rangers ran out to a 4-0 lead at the Meadowlands and Devs fans faced the next day full of razzing from any and all Rangers friends and family.
The Devils managed two goals in the third but they were answered with another Rangers tally. It was 5-2 with 8:14 to play and things looked bleak. But a funny thing happened on the way to the loss column. Goals by Rich Preston, Aaron Broten and the last from Tim Higgins with 32 seconds left, shocked the sellout crowd and sent the game to overtime.
There, Mel Bridgman sent the Devils half of the crowd home happy with the winner 50 seconds into free hockey. I best remember it for Devils radio play-by-play man Larry "The Master Blaster" Hirsch delivering a 20-megaton "SCOOOOOOORRRRRRRRE" that sent his press notes flying and nearly knocked analyst Fred Shero into the aisle!
May 26, 2012: Game 6 Devils-Rangers, Eastern Conference Final. Or, "Goodbye to the Ghost of Mr. Matteau": The similarities to Game 6 of the Devils-Rangers epic 1994 playoff series were eerie. Jersey jumped out to a 2-0 lead, looking to clinch the series, just as they had 18 years earlier. The Rangers, following the plot, rallied to tie it at 2-2 and there wasn't a Devils fan within 50 miles of Prudential Center who didn't expect Mark Messier to show up in the third period and start flipping goals past Marty Brodeur as he did in '94.
But curses are made to be broken, ghosts are eventually sent packing. So it was this night, just 1:03 into overtime. A mad scramble in front of the Rangers net found the puck squirting to rookie Adam Henrique, all alone on the far side, where he swept in the winner, turning the Rock into a madhouse, sending the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final and ending 18 years of non-stop heckling by Rangers fans. Finally, there was an answer to "Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!" All Devils fans need do now to infuriate their Blueshirt Buddies is repeat the three words uttered by Doc Emrick when the goal was scored:
"Henrique! It's over!"