By Steve Silverman
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The Rangers don’t need to turn their Eastern Conference finals against the Devils into a blood series.
There are indications that as the series moves to this critical fourth game, the emphasis could change from winning on the scoreboard to winning in the alley.
Peter DeBoer talks about the Rangers’ head-hunting ways. John Tortorella breaks his self-imposed series of one-word answers to accuse the Devils of using picks on their power play and other less-than-ethical tactics in the series.
The seeds are being planted for a return to the regular-season brawls that took place between these two teams.
That would be a ridiculous turn to a series that has seen Henrik Lundqvist dominate with two shutouts in the first three games. The Rangers don’t have to think about putting their heavyweights on the ice so they can get a little blood lust percolating. While DeBoer is wrong to complain about Brandon Prust’s elbow, Tortorella is just as wrong to engage the Devils’ coach in a childish debate. It’s one thing to cry about officiating. It’s quite another to set the stage for turning the series into a bloody war. That part of hockey only takes away from a team’s ability to play its best game when it matters most.
Prust won’t play in Game 4 because he hit the Devils’ Anton Volchenkov with an elbow that was caught clearly on video even if it was not penalized by officials during the game. I buy Prust’s explanation that the elbow was not an intentional move to go after Volchenkov. As the Devils’ defenseman maneuvered out of the way to avoid Prust, the elbow came up in a reflexive manner. That doesn’t make it right or legal, but he did not intentionally try to hurt Volchenkov. He made contact with the side of his head, but it was not a hard blow.
Five years ago, the play would not have gotten two inches of commentary in the newspaper. Now it’s a declaration of war.
The Rangers don’t need to get into a war with the Devils. The caveman part of hockey often disappears during the playoffs and skill takes over. That’s what should happen here.
The Rangers may have a 2-1 lead, but they have plenty to be concerned about. Throughout the postseason, they have allowed their opponents to react positively every time they are in a position to take charge. Against the Capitals, when the Rangers took a one-game lead, the Capitals came back to tie the series. The Senators shoved the Rangers against the wall in the first round after taking a 3-2 lead in the series and the Rangers were able to react the right way by taking Games 6 and 7.
This time, it’s about coming out with the same kind of effort they showed in the second half of Game 3. New York dominated the third period and was the better team in the final 30 minutes. If they aren’t the better team at the start in Game 4, the Devils may put them on their heels and make the Rangers play catch-up hockey once again.
But it may not be about strategy in this game. Both coaches have indicated that this game might be different. They may be willing to go old-school and turn the game into a series of fights and scrums that only denigrate their profession.
There’s no place for these kind of blood lettings any more. Especially in the playoffs.
The great 1-on-1 fight may be exciting when you are sitting in the stands or watching on television. But the vigilante aspect of the sport is ridiculous and cheapens the profession.
The men in charge need to take a deep breath and get back to the strategic aspects of the game. The Rangers have to use their speed, block shots and depend on their outstanding goaltender. The Devils have to work the cycle game, win the board battles and fire quick shots to the top corners of the net.
There’s no need for the sideshow. The game itself is entertainment enough.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy).
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