By TOM CANAVAN, Associated Press
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — If you have any doubt the New Jersey Devils are frustrating the New York Rangers in their Eastern Conference finals, just look at Game 4.
Forget that Zach Parise scored two goals and set up another in the Devils' 4-1 win that evened the series at 2-all.
Look at the extracurricular stuff in the game Monday night.
Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur got sucker-punched by former teammate Mike Rupp, who might now be facing a suspension.
New Jersey teammates Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique and Steve Bernier were the victims of cheap shots, and the Rangers spent most of the final 20 minutes killing off penalties and acting foolish.
In 48 hours, the tide has turned again in this series between longtime rivals. Henrik Lundqvist is no longer in the Devils' heads, and the Rangers seemingly are the ones fighting demons heading into Game 5 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.
"It's a good sign, I guess, when they take liberties on players," Brodeur said after making 28 saves en route to his 10th postseason win. "That means they're getting off their game a little bit. We've been working really hard, putting our head down, taking a lot of shots throughout the playoffs.
"It's no different in this series," the 40-year-old three-time Stanley Cup winner said. "And as we go, we're going to keep doing the same. And it's paying off for us to be disciplined about these things."
The Rangers were undisciplined. They took six penalties and one led to Parise's first goal early in the third period that pushed the lead to 3-0.
The tally gave New Jersey a comfortable lead, but the game was far from over, especially when Rupp punched Brodeur with a jab that appeared to connect in the neck area and slide up his mask.
The punch seemingly came out of nowhere and almost set off a battle on the ice. It did spark a shouting match between coaches Peter DeBoer of the Devils and John Tortorella of the Rangers on the benches.
"You don't like to see that," DeBoer said of the hit on his goaltender. "He's a key guy for us. Two teams battling it out. He's a big boy. He can take care of himself."
Brodeur was more surprised by the incident than anything.
"I didn't expect anything," he said. "I never got punched like that in my career. First time. It kind of surprised me more than anything, but now I know I can take a punch."
Tortorella refused to say anything about his shouting match with DeBoer, with whom he has argued several times this season, including Sunday when he complained about the Devils using illegal picks and embellishing penalties.
"This isn't about John and I," DeBoer said. "This is about the guys on the ice. So, I don't have anything to say about that."
This game — and its result — was almost anticlimactic after the shenanigans.
Bryce Salvador and Travis Zajac beat Henrik Lundqvist less than four minutes apart in the first to give the Devils their first two-goal lead in the series, which is developing an intensity and emotion comparable to the classic 1994 Eastern Conference Finals between these two rivals.
In that series, there were suspensions on both sides, three double-overtime games, a Game 6 "Guarantee" by New York captain Mark Messier, and unparalleled drama.
Well, this one is getting there.
On Monday, Brodeur, the only remaining player on either side from that series, even notched an assist in the third, on Parise's empty netter, capping a game in which the Devils maintained their composure and bounced back from a 3-0 shutout in Game 3, while the Rangers took several uncharacteristic penalties and seemed rattled from the start.
And the chippiness increased with each period. New York's Marc Staal whacked Elias in the back of the knee with his stick in the second. Ryan Callahan, the Rangers captain, and New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk tussled and then jawed at each other from the respective penalty boxes.
"There are going to be situations out there where we get into each other's faces," Callahan said. "That's playoff hockey."
But the Rupp incident might have been a little over the top, even for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
A former Devil who scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal for New Jersey in 2003 against Anaheim, Rupp jabbed Brodeur while the goalie was in his crease in the third after a stoppage in play. That almost set off a free-for-all among the players on the ice, especially after Brodeur reacted like he had been hit by a roundhouse left.
As Brodeur walked through the locker room, he was asked if Rupp was his friend.
"That's what I thought," he said before heading to the podium for a postgame news conference. Rupp was not available for comment.
Ruslan Fedotenko ruined Brodeur's bid for his 25th career playoff shutout with just over five minutes to play.
The Rangers pulled Lundqvist, who had shut out the Devils in Games 1 and 3, with less than three minutes to play, and Brodeur made two outstanding saves to keep it a two-goal game.
Parise — two days after he did not speak to reporters after a disappointing effort in Game 3 — finally iced it with his second of the game and sixth of the playoffs. It was a clearing pass that found its way into the net. Brodeur's assist was his fourth point of the playoffs, an NHL record for a goaltender in one postseason.
But this game — which did not include New York's Brendan Prust, who was suspended for elbowing Anton Volchenkov in Game 3 — was decided early because the Devils finally found ways to beat Lundqvist.
Salvador's wrist shot from the point found its way through a half-dozen players and sneaked by the Rangers' netminder for New Jersey's first goal since the third period of Game 2.
Zajac's goal gave the Devils a 2-0 edge at 11:59, and the rejuvenated Parise had a big hand in it.
New Jersey's Dainius Zubrus sent the puck along the boards and New York's Michael Del Zotto made two mistakes. He didn't flag down the puck and then he allowed Parise to skate past him, setting up a 2-on-1 break. Parise lifted a pass over the stick of a prone Dan Girardi, and Zajac one-timed the pass into the upper portion of the net before Lundqvist could react.
Parise extended the lead to 3-0 early in the third, just 4 seconds after New York's Derek Stepan was sent off for high-sticking. Kovalchuk took a shot from the point that Lundqvist could not control and Parise whacked the rebound into the net.
NOTES: Veteran Petr Sykora, who had played in every game for the Devils this season and won the 2000 Stanley Cup with New Jersey, sat, as Jacob Josefson returned to the lineup. ... With Prust forced to miss the game, the Rangers dressed seven defenseman, including Stu Bickel, who returned to the lineup after sitting for Game 3. ... Rangers rookie forward Chris Kreider had his three-game goal scoring streak snapped. ... The Devils' win was played on the 18th anniversary of New Jersey's 3-1 victory over the Rangers in the aforementioned 1994 series. That was also a Game 4, and that also tied that series, 2-2. New York went on to win in seven games. ... Monday night's game marked the first time the Rangers allowed more than three goals in a contest during these playoffs. New York tied an NHL record by holding its opponents to three goals or less in 17 consecutive games to begin the postseason.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.