Rangers, Devils turn up the tension

Linesman Brian Murphy pulls Mike Rupp, of the New York Rangers, away from Martin Brodeur after an...

Linesman Brian Murphy pulls Mike Rupp, of the New York Rangers, away from Martin Brodeur after an altercation in the third period of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final in Newark. (GETTY)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 8:44 PM ET

NEW YORK - With the undercard out of the way, let's get on to the good stuff.

The Eastern Conference final has been reduced to a best-of-three, thanks to the New Jersey Devils' convincing victory Monday night over the Rangers in Newark.

But the most encouraging development for what often has been a tame series -- both in emotion and must-watch action -- is that the thermometer surged upward toward the end of the Devils' 4-1 win to lock the series at two apiece.

With so much on the line, no one is predicting an all-out brawl the rest of the way -- as per the now-infamous 10-man skirmish at the start of a regular-season game back in March. But when Rangers tough guy Mike Rupp gave a gloved sucker shot to the upper chest of Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur in the third period of Game 4, it certainly stirred up the memories.

Devils coach Peter DeBoer immediately followed up by jawing with Rangers counterpart John Tortorella as the two renewed their hostilities, even as there wasn't much left to decide in that game. On Tuesday, both men refused to discuss the heated exchange that sent penalty-box TV analysts Glenn Healy and Pierre McGuire ducking for cover, but it served as a perfect setup for the next act, Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

"It's exactly what I had heard it was, and what I anticipated it would be," DeBoer said of the rivalry when he met with the media Tuesday after giving his team a day off. "I'd heard about it and it has lived up to its billing. The most important thing for us is the young guys learning to manage their emotions against a rival like the Rangers."

DeBoer is no stranger to the emotion of playoff hockey -- in fact he had several memorable playoff battles in the Ontario Hockey League. But in his first NHL playoff season, the former Kitchener Rangers coach knows its not Dale Hunter and the London Knights on the other side here.

"The type of emotion that's involved is the same, but the only difference is you have 10 million people (tuning in)," DeBoer said.

They'll be tuning in for good now as, no matter what the style, the stakes will make for gripping action. The Rupp hit certainly received plenty of attention as did the coaching sideshow, but both sides tried to play down the prospect of more of the same.

"They're up by three with 10 minutes to go, so you see guys get a little more emotional," said Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, who was involved in a couple of testy incidents Monday. "If it's a one-goal game it's different."

The Rangers can ill afford to get caught up on the wrong type of emotion, for all sorts of reasons.

For one thing, they have been outplayed for wide stretches in this series, including most of the first half of Game 4, which allowed the Devils to build an insurmountable lead. They can also learn from the Devils previous opponent. Every time the Philadelphia Flyers came looking for trouble in the previous round, the Devils turned the other cheek and ran off with a relatively easy and unexpected 4-1 series win.

Then again, the Rangers didn't exactly get to this point by playing without discipline. Tortorella has them buying into the team-first approach and it's unlikely that will be abandoned down the stretch.

Although they haven't played their best, particularly on offence, the Rangers have no reason to feel uncomfortable about the spot they find themselves in, either. In each of their two previous series wins -- first vs. Ottawa and then against Washington -- they found themselves knotted after four games and able to put their No. 1 Eastern Conference seed to good use.

"We're used to the situation, we've been in it two other times," Callahan told reporters following the Rangers' brisk 20-minute skate at the Garden. "It's a best-of-three with two at home. We know how to prepare for it. We'll be ready (Wednesday)."

Ring the bell. Round 5 awaits.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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