Rich Kane/Icon SMI)
The New York Rangers clinched a playoff spot last night with a 4-2 win over the division rival New Jersey Devils in a tightly played, physical match. The story coming out of the game, however, was the six-player rumble that took place upon opening faceoff, when Rangers’ forwards Stu Bickel, Brandon Prust, and Mike Rupp took on New Jersey forwards Ryan Carter, Cam Janssen, and Eric Boulton, respectively.
The six-man scuffle, which appeared premeditated, was a direct response by the Devils to a similar incident from February 7th, when the Rangers came to New Jersey and opened the game with a line of Prust, Rupp, and Bickel.
"I guess in John’s world you can come into our building and start your tough guys, but we can’t do the same in here," said New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer to the media outside New York’s visiting locker room. "He’s either got short-term memory loss or he’s a hypocrite."
After the game, Rangers head coach John Tortorella did his best to not comment on the matter, "It’s none of my business. I don’t coach that team. I didn’t put the starting lineup in as the visiting coach," he said. "Whether I agreed or disagreed with what happened at the beginning of the game, I liked the way our team handled themselves through it."
Roughly a minute after the giant scrap, Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky beat Devils goalie Martin Brodeur with a snap shot from about 18 feet away.
Any momentum the Devils may have had remaining at the end of the first period was drained when just 33 seconds into the second period, Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi would score his fifth goal of the season, putting the Blueshirts in the lead for the remainder of the game.
More important than the sideshow theatrics of the game, however, were the playoff ramifications. With a regulation loss New Jersey is now five points behind the fifth-seeded Philadelphia Flyers while the Rangers are now three points ahead of the fourth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins.
Atlantic Division Notes
New Jersey Devils – The Devils signed 19-year-old goaltending prospect Scott Wedgewood to a three-year entry-level deal. Wedgewood is coming off a season where he managed a 28-10-3 record, a 3.02 goals against average, and a .911 save percentage. He is part of a young, talented crop of Devils goaltending prospects that also includes Maxime Clermont and Keith Kinkaid.
New York Islanders – The Islanders will visit the Maple Leafs tonight in the final meeting between the two teams. The Islanders have lost the past three times the teams have met, getting out-scored 12-6. Prospect Brock Nelson scored the game-winning goal in the WCHA title game this past Saturday. Nelson has four goals in his last three games and 44 points in 40 games this season. Nelson could possibly turn pro at the end of his 2011-12 collegiate season.
New York Rangers – The Rangers are getting scoring from all through their forward lineup lately, with Derek Stepan and Brandon Dubinsky both ending six-game scoring droughts last night. Mats Zuccarello has also been solid since he was recalled in mid-March, managing two goals and an assist in his last six games. With a healthy Ryan Callahan also in the lineup, it can only mean good news for the Rangers playoff hopes as they have relied on their top line of Hagelin-Richards-Gaborik for most of their recent offense.
Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers got bad news when it was revealed defenseman Andrej Meszaros will have lower back surgery Wednesday and is expected to be sidelined for at least six weeks. He requires a small disc fragment in his back to be removed. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week for the second week in a row. In his last four games, Bryzgalov has a 3-0-1 record, a 1.44 goals-against average, a .950 save percentage and one shutout.
Pittsburgh Penguins – The Penguins host the Winnipeg Jets tonight in what will be the last meeting of the two clubs this season. The previous time the two teams squared off was on February 11th, when the Penguins hosted the Jets, beating them 8-5 in a game that would see 11 different Penguin players register a point. The Penguins so far lead the season series, 2-1.