May 22, 2012

The bitter rivalry between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils just got really heated. From spearing to cross-checking to punching a legendary goalie across the face to taking turns punching each other in the jewels…oops…that did happen.

While fans demanded suspensions left and right, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety decided that after a lengthy review of all of the questionable offenses, nothing that happened in Game 4 warranted supplemental discipline. If the department were to dish out suspensions from last night’s mishaps, Marian Gaborik (elbowing), Ryan Callahan and Ilya Kovalchuk (spearing and other violent jabs), Stu Bickel (dangerous cross-check to Ryan Carter’s neck), Ryan Carter (violent retaliation that followed), and Mike Rupp (punching the goalie) would have all been called up to Brendan Shanahan’s courtroom.

In this case, sometimes it’s just better to look the other way and let both teams play on. This is hockey. This is what is expected now that the Stanley Cup is almost within reach.

In Monday night’s match-up, the Devils took the lead early when Bryce Salvador found his way through traffic to score on Henrik Lundqvist at 8:10 in the first period. Lundqvist didn’t even see the puck coming towards the net from the blueline. The traffic in front prevented him from seeing Salvador winding up for the shot.

At 9:26, things started to get rough between the two clubs as Ryan McDonagh took down Adam Henrique as the puck continued on down to the other end of the ice. Both players were called for fighting.

At 11:59, with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac skating into the Rangers’ zone, Parise sent a pass across to Zajac, who finished the play to give the Devils a two-goal lead over the Rangers.

In the middle period, Ilya Kovalchuk and Ryan Callahan started to get under each other’s skin as a spear, a hit, a couple of jabs below the belts, and cursing from one penalty box to the other landed Kovalchuk with a 2:00 slashing call and a 2:00 roughing call for Callahan.

“[It’s] nothing,” Kovalchuk said of the skirmish. “It’s part of the game.”

“It’s a game. It’s emotions. You’ve got to be angry.”

“He got a couple punches. It’s hockey. It’s not chess. We are allowed to punch each other.”

When asked about the groin punches, Kovalchuk responded, “Underneath where? The knee?”

In the groin?

“He’s got protection there…so…”

Prior to this incident, Patrik Elias was speared in the back of the leg by a New York Ranger. No penalty was called. Elias skated back to the bench with difficulty. The medical trainer looked him over and determined all was fine. Elias was back out on the ice for his next shift.

In the final period, with Derek Stepan in the penalty box for high-sticking at 2:37, the Devils won the faceoff right at the puck drop. Henrique sent the puck to the top to an awaiting Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk slapped the puck towards the net, and was swallowed up by Lundqvist.

Lundqvist dropped the puck. Parise was right in front to jab the loose puck into the net to give the Devils a three-goal lead just four seconds after the Stepan penalty.

As the frustration started to build, Stu Bickel caught Ryan Carter in the neck with his stick. A cross-checking penalty was not called and the tension between the two clubs started to heighten. As the puck headed back to center ice, there was an exchange between the officials and the Rangers bench citing that Girardi could not come out on that shift. Bickel had to remain on the ice.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/DLZGMM-I1fU]

Bickel came out onto the ice and went right up to Carter in what was an apparent attempt for a fight to commence once the puck dropped. He kept coming up to Carter, challenging him. The officials then pushed Bickel away from Carter.

As the play headed into motion, all mayhem started to ensue following a whistle on Mike Rupp’s hit on Peter Harrold. As a frustrated Rupp came around the front of the net, he shoved Brodeur. In his ‘shove,’ he ended up hitting him in the chest. His hand bounced off of him and hit Brodeur right in the chin, knocking him off balance.

This is the first time in Brodeur’s career that he’s ever been hit in the face. Ironically, it was by a former teammate and friend as Rupp used to play for the Devils.

“You don’t like to see that, obviously,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said of the Brodeur hit. “Two teams battling out…stuff like that happens. He’s a big boy. He can take care of himself.”

“It probably shouldn’t have happened,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “I thought it was just a legal hit. We just play. None of that would have happened if we just kept playing the game. I don’t know why the penalty was called. I’m not questioning the referee. I just thought it was a legal hit. None of that would have happened.”

In the meantime, Bickel found Carter and they attempted to square off. On the bench, DeBoer and Tortorella started screaming at each other.

“This isn’t about John and I,” DeBoer said of his words with Tortorella. “This is about the guys on the ice. I don’t have anything to say about that.”

Tortorella also responded that he wasn’t going to answer any questions on what transpired between them.

“It was total emotion,” Kovalchuk said of the altercation between the coaches. “But I don’t think Rupp should do that. You’ve got to respect the goalie first. But it’s Marty. [Rupp] played on this team, too, so he knows [Brodeur] real well. I don’t know what was going on through his mind. I’m pretty sure he will apologize.”

The penalties at 6:18 in the third period were: Rupp (4 minutes for roughing, 10 minute misconduct), Carter (2 minutes for roughing, 10 minute misconduct), Bickel (2 minutes for roughing, 10 minute misconduct).

This was a prime example of the Hudson rivalry. The fans chanting of “Rangers Suck” was deafening after they showed the replay of Rupp ‘shoving’ Brodeur.

With the Devils leading 3-0 at this point, there was no hope in sight for the Rangers to come back, especially now that hockey had been reduced to all of this frustration and violence. Ruslan Fedotenko was the lone Ranger to put up a goal at 14:55. This marked his first goal in the playoffs.

With 2:23 left in the game, the Rangers pulled Lundqvist from goal for an extra attacker. But that did the Rangers no good as Parise caught the empty net at 18:31.

At 19:42, both Alexei Ponikarovsky and Michael Del Zotto were called for cross-checking. By this time, the Devils had already sealed the win, 4-1 to tie up the series 2-2.

“We were desperate,” Kovalchuk said of the win. “We played with a lot of energy. I thought we did a great job.”

Both teams head back to Madison Square Garden for Game 5 on Wednesday. They will play Game 6 on Friday in Prudential Center.

About The Author

Michelle Kenneth has been with Inside Hockey since 2007 as the beat reporter for the New Jersey Devils. She is also part of the IH team covering the New York Rangers. Since 2007, she's covered the Stanley Cup Finals, NHL All-Stars, NHL Awards, Winter Classic, Stadium Series and the NHL in Europe. You can follow Michelle on Twitter @MichelleKenneth and on her blog: michellekennethhockey.wordpress.com.