When the Rangers and Devils met in Newark in December, John Tortorella, as the visiting coach, elected to start his fourth line bruisers. There was a fight two seconds after the faceoff. Last night's rematch was at MSG, so Devils coach Pete DeBoer had first crack of setting a lineup. He went with his fighters, Ryan Carter, Cam Janssen, and Eric Boulton. So the only question was: could they get things started in faster than two seconds?
They could not. The fights took place at :03, on the score sheet. Stu Bickel, Brandon Prust, and Mike Rupp did the honors for New York, with Bickel, a defenseman, moving up to take the first faceoff of his career. (Technically, he won it.)
This is a good litmus test for your own views on fighting, as it was exactly the sort of scrap that purists believe is important, and exactly the sort that would be first to go if fighting were ever banned from the game. Boulton said it was done to keep the physical play among the physical guys, to diffuse the tension so the skaters could go about their business.
You want to send a message you can't be pushed around," Boulton said. "I think we did that. It definitely (diffuses things). It lets the other guys play the game. We don't want tio get pushed around. We're here to play."
It worked to that extent, as there was no more fighting, and no cheap or dangerous penalties the rest of the way. And it also worked in that nebulous way supports of fighting always cite—it created "atmosphere." The mixed crowd was nutso for the rest of the way, and a fired-up Rangers team scored just 1:08 later.
But it was also the kind of fight that, in its most literal sense, had nothing to do with the game. The game hadn't even started yet. This wasn't retribution for a dirty hit, and it was protecting the skaters only in the hypothetical. Martin Brodeur spoke for those who just want to see some hockey.
"I don't like it," Brodeur said. "I know the fans get into it. We're here to play. It takes 10 minutes to pick up the gloves and blood."
You can't blame Tortorella for matching fourth lines—you're not going to put Brad Richards to take the faceoff opposite Ryan Carter. And you can't blame DeBoer for pulling the same lineup shenanigans Tortorella did back in December. But an awful lot of good stuff was lost in the wake of a three-on-three Survivor Series. The Rangers needed a point to clinch a playoff spot. There's a good chance it was Marty Brodeur's last ever game at Madison Square Garden. And it was Rangers-Devils, for god's sake. It shouldn't have needed a highlight reel fight to get the players and fans into it.
That said, we can't stop replaying the video. We are, like the NHL itself, totally conflicted on the concept of fighting in hockey. It's often pointless, needlessly violent, and farcical. But on certain occasions, it's a tactical deployment, a point that can't be gotten across any other way. And yes, it can be fun to watch.
Devils' Pete DeBoer rips Rangers' John Tortorella for opening faceoff ruckus [Star-Ledger]
Coaches exchange words [ESPNNewYork]