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May 22, 2012 | 8:01pm ET
Rangers-Devils rivalry stays strong

NEW YORK, NY -- On April 27, 1992, Martin Brodeur first skated in between the pipes against the New York Rangers.

Brodeur, the goaltender of the New Jersey Devils over the last two decades, and the player most commonly associated with the franchise's history, has hated the Rangers ever since that day.

"I was part of the whole seven games. I was on the bench. I was in the locker room. I got to hate the Rangers early on, got the taste of it. And all (this) year with what happened and all the new faces, we've got a little bit of that feeling," Brodeur told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record.

The battle of the Hudson River then naturally extended to the fans. Schools across the northern part of New Jersey began to see kids arguing in hallways, donning Red and Blue jerseys. It was the start of a great rivalry.

In a historic series, the intensity was magnified greatly. The easiest way to build a rivalry is to meet each other in the playoffs, and in 1994 on the road to the Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers and Devils engaged in an on the ice clash that left a lasting impression on both the franchises.

Disdain is bound to develop when teams meet more than a few times in a season, and are located 9.3 miles (as the crow flies) from each other.

Enforcer Mike Rupp explained how the hate can blossom, "Anytime a team puts you out in the playoffs it creates a bit of a rivalry."

Rookie speedster Carl Hagelin echoed his sentiments, "If you are involved with a tough series against a team you probably have that rivalry for the rest of your career."

And calling the 1994 Eastern Conference Final tough would be an absolute understatement.

From Mark Messier's Game Six proclamation of, "We will win tonight," and following that up with a natural hat trick evening the series when the Rangers were on the brink of their season ending; to Howie Rose screaming "Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!" after Stephane Matteau's series winning wrap-around goal in double overtime. The series was not without its drama, and Brodeur had barely even earned the starters job at that point.

That season, the Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. The very next season, the Devils won their first Stanley Cup, 13 years after moving to New Jersey. Ranger fans felt slighted, and their victory seemed almost less sweet, because their bitter rivals could hold that one over their head, winning a championship more recently.

After they met again in the 1997 playoffs, the two teams traveled down much different paths. The Devils would go on to win two more Stanley Cups, and the Rangers would miss the playoffs for the next seven years. To add to the dark times, the Devils absolutely dominated their neighbors to the west.

After the lockout, on the back of rookie goalie Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers made the playoffs for the first time since 1997. Only to be promptly eliminated by the Devils in four games, rubbing salt in the wound.

"It's pretty sweet for everybody especially in a season that the Rangers dominated all year long," Brodeur said after the Devils completed the sweep. "It was a long time coming for the Devils fans. For myself, it's been a long time, too."

Few players define a rivalry as well as Sean Avery and Martin Brodeur's honest and genuine dislike for each other. Avery was always at the center of some scandal, and seemed to make it his personal goal to take Brodeur out of the game. So it was fitting in 2008, when the two teams met in the first round of the playoffs, that Avery and Brodeur would be at the center of another issue.

Avery who likely got tired of flinging the same old insults at Brodeur decided to turn his back on the teammates behind him attempting to run the team's 5-on-3 powerplay. He faced Brodeur and raised his stick to shield the netminder's eyes from the puck. It was one of the strangest (legal at the time) plays that anyone had ever seen. Ironically, just moments after giving up on trying to block him from the puck, Avery slammed home a rebound giving the Rangers a powerplay goal.

The NHL quickly acted, adding the following rule, "An unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty (Rule 75) will be interpreted and applied, effective immediately, to a situation when an offensive player positions himself facing the opposition goaltender and engages in actions such as waving his arms or stick in front of the goaltender's face, for the purpose of improperly interfering with and/or distracting the goaltender as opposed to positioning himself to try to make a play."

Brodeur also responded by telling the Daily News after the incident, "Nobody should have to play hockey with a stick an inch from your face... But it wasn't a bad play. While he was doing it, I couldn't see anything. The two misses were just luck, I couldn't see a thing."

After the Rangers eliminated the Devils in five games, Brodeur, likely fed up with Avery's antics, refused to shake Avery's hand. Avery very candidly spoke in a post-game interview on MSG Network.

"Well, everyone talks about how classy or un-classy I am, and fatso there just forgot to shake my hand I guess... We outplayed him. I outplayed him. We're going to the second round."

Now, the two teams will both get their chance to play for the Stanley Cup once again. The road however, goes through each other. Twice this season there were multiple fights before the puck even hit the ice, including 6 players squaring off at the one second mark of a game back in March. Even the coaches got into it a little bit.

Rangers head coach John Tortorella, who appeared irked at the notion of Devils bench boss Pete DeBoer starting his goons which led to the triple fight in March, was called out by DeBoer who said the Tortorella pulled the same move on them.

Tortorella fired back by saying, "I get put in a position when he puts a lineup like that out -- and I'm not sure what's going to happen if I put my top players out -- so I have to answer the way I need to answer. Really, just look at the two lineups and some of the things he's done through the games here, again, I don't want to coach his team, but just shut up."

The rivalry appears lively as ever. Rupp, who won a Stanley Cup with the Devils, and is attempting to do the same on the other side of the Lincoln Tunnel wholeheartedly agrees.

"I don't think it has lost any of its luster at all," explained Rupp. "It's always been a big rivalry... we see each other a lot and we are really close in distance."

The two goaltenders squaring off also have a bit of history backing them. At one end of the ice, a very sound argument can be made for Brodeur being the greatest to ever don a catching glove and blocker, while Lundqvist has been making quite a name for himself in NY. Only 30 years old, and Lundqvist is in the discussion with other New York Rangers greats like Eddie Giacomin and Mike Richter. The now four time Vezina nominee, is really only missing a Stanley Cup on his resume.

Lundqvist spoke glowingly of all-time great Brodeur after his team's game one victory, "Every Time you play against great players it's exciting... it is inspiring to play against top guys."

After last night's victory by the Devils, the two are locked in a tie at two victories apiece. The series has seen ups and downs from both sides, and it appears we are headed towards another long battle between the two ruthless rivals. But despite a conference finals always carrying the stigma of intensity, the rivalry is not lost on the players.

"Any game against the Rangers is going to be emotional and hard fought...even this season you could tell, there was a lot of edge and feistiness in those games," explained Devils forward David Clarkson after his team's 3-2 victory in game 2.

There was even a tense moment between the coaches in game five, who were likely accusing each other of running licentious players on the ice for the sole purpose of stirring up trouble.

The 2012 Eastern Conference finals will be just another chapter in the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils storied rivalry. And both teams are hoping they will be pages to remember.

Patrick Kearns is a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com and the New York Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.


 

 

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