May 13, 2012
Hatred brewing between Devils, Rangers
By TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
NEWARK, N.J. - In a strange way, Martin Brodeur thinks he might have the New York Rangers to partly thank for where he is today.
The New Jersey Devils goaltender would be taking a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto the minute after retiring, if it worked that way, and the 40-year-old said on Sunday that losing to the Rangers in the Eastern Conference final 18 years ago cemented part of the foundation in his legendary career.
“I think I grew from that,” Brodeur said. “It hurt. I was the first one to say it was one of the toughest losses I have had. If I didn’t have it, maybe I would never have became who I became, or even the organization, not just myself. Sometimes you need to hit little hurdles before you are able to go over them pretty easily.”
Back in 1994, the Rangers needed seven games to eliminate the Devils, a series that included three double-overtime games and Mark Messier’s guaranteed victory prior to Game 6. It was one of five previous times the Rangers and Devils have clashed in the playoffs, and just once, in the 2006 conference semifinal, have the Devils won.
The latest Battle of the Hudson, starting Monday night at Madison Square Garden with Game 1, will feature two teams that get by on patient defence and an ability to score timely goals. Brad Richards was the Rangers’ offensive catalyst in the second round, while the Devils’ Ilya Kovalchuk has warmed to the longest post-season run of his career, leading New Jersey in scoring with 12 points in 11 games.
But each club has relied on unusual suspects, whether it has been the Devils’ fourth line of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier or Rangers rookies Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin, to come through with strong efforts.
And, of course, there is Brodeur and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The latter holds a 27-10-5 record against Brodeur in his career, including a 4-4 mark in the post-season.
“This is where your legacy is made,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of weeks.”
During six regular season meetings, the Rangers and Devils spent a lot of time beating each other up. Every player on both sides expects a physical series, and though there should be plenty of bone-rattling hits, fighting is unlikely to be as common.
“I think a chippy game is still clean,” Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. “I don’t think we’re going to be dirty or they’re going to be dirty by any means. It’s going to be physical. It’s going to be tough to find room on the ice. Our team likes that style of game. We’re excited for it.”
Every inch will be earned the hard way, as will every goal. Neither team has homework to do on the other as they know the other’s tendencies. There’s no love lost between the clubs, and though the term “hatred” is tossed around loosely when it comes to discussing rivalries in pro sports, it applies to what these sides feel about each other.
Brodeur knows he is not the goaltender he once was. By NHL standards, especially for a goalie, he is ancient, and he realizes that getting the better of Lundqvist in a best-of-seven will be a daunting challenge.
Does Brodeur have anything left to prove?
“I’m still playing, so I will be judged about the performance I am going to throw out there these next two weeks,” Brodeur said. “It does not matter what I did in the past. What I do in the next two weeks is what people will talk about. That’s just the nature of being still active in the NHL. If I was not ready for it, I would not be here. I am happy to be here and happy to have the opportunity to try to move on to the Stanley Cup final.”