A bloody and vicious line brawl erupted three seconds after the opening faceoff in the Rangers 4-2 playoff-clinching win against the Devils, but the war of words between coaches John Tortorella and Pete DeBoer raged on both before and after the game.
Livid that DeBoer elected to start his fourth line of fighters, Tortorella was seen screaming and cursing toward the Devils bench before the puck dropped. And although Tortorella denied saying anything to DeBoer, DeBoer fired right back in a postgame press conference with reporters.
"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," DeBoer told reporters. "He's either got short-term memory loss or he's a hypocrite."
DeBoer was referencing the two teams' meeting in New Jersey on Dec. 20 in which Tortorella started tough guys Mike Rupp and Brandon Prust; Rupp fought heavyweight Cam Janssen three seconds into play of the Rangers 4-1 win.
Tortorella seemed to simmer down following his pregame tirade, however, refusing to engage further with his New Jersey counterpart.
"It's none of my business, I don't coach that team," Tortorella said of the Devils. "I do what I have to do with my team. I don't coach his team so it's none of my business."
Tortorella was fuming at DeBoer's decision -- visiting coaches set the starting lineup -- but he answered the move with one of his own, instructing defenseman Stu Bickel to take the opening faceoff instead of natural pivot Brandon Dubinsky, who was also in the starting lineup.
"We were pretty fired up," said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made
20 saves to record his 33rd win of the season. "We knew what was coming."
Lundqvist said Tortorella made some last-minute adjustments to the Rangers' starting lineup and made it clear to his players in the dressing room before the game that he was angry with DeBoer's starting five.
"I can say he was not happy with their starting lineup," he said. "He got us going pretty good in here. Then we went out for the face-off, and it was a good feeling. We got the group together and I think everybody was ready to go."
One minute, 11 seconds after Bickel won his first and only faceoff of the season -- the 25-year-old blue-liner could not recall the last time he took a draw -- Brandon Dubinsky scored his first goal in seven games for a 1-0 Rangers lead.
The Devils twice whittled the Rangers two-goal leads to one in the second period, but an insurance goal from second-year center Derek Stepan late in the third allowed the Rangers to preserve the lead and become the first team in the East to secure a berth in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Said Tortorella: "I liked our fight, and I liked how we battled."