The New York Rangers were born in 1926. They followed the New York (later Brooklyn) Americans by one year. The Blueshirts outlasted their older brother, though, as the Americans disappeared during World War II (not in World War II, but during), so the Rangers had the New York area to themselves for decades. The New York Islanders came along in 1972 to thwart the upstart WHA from planting themselves in New York. And 10 years later came the New Jersey Devils, after hitchhiking across America for eight years with pit stops in Kansas City and Colorado. There was no crying need for a third team in the area, no yawning chasm that needed to be filled. But there was an arena that was hockey-ready, so the vagabond franchise arrived, ready or not. The Rangers and Islanders really didn't want them here, but they took the territorial-rights money, and went about their business.
The Devils carved out a little niche for themselves in the Garden State, and for the last 20 years they've been one of the most successful teams in the New York/New Jersey area. But most haven't seemed to notice. Or care. Out of the nine major teams, they're No. 9. Three Stanley Cups? Yawn. They're barely a blip on the radar screen. Martin Brodeur one of the greatest, if not the greatest, goalie in the history of the NHL? His name barely registers with the casual sport fan around here. If he played in New York he would be a local legend. Meanwhile, over the decades, besides the one Stanley Cup that will last a lifetime, the Rangers have put some colossal failures on the ice, but no matter -- they still draw all the attention, all the media, all the glory. They're New York. Not that other place west of here that might as well be Iowa to some people.
And now, as the Rangers and Devils meet for the sixth time in the postseason, whatever the status of the two teams, they loathe each other, as they always have, as do their fan bases. And after the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals were somewhat tepidly played, with the Rangers' shot-blocking being an obsession more than any rough stuff, and the two goaltenders being the best players for their respective teams, John Tortorella and Pete DeBoer have infused the series with a shot of hatred. Brandon Prust's elbow to Anton Volchenkov's head started a war of words between the two rivals. Or at least gamesmanship, whichever way you want to look at it.
"Head hunting. Plain and simple," said DeBoer.
"I look at Dainius Zubrus with an elbow to Stralman. I look at Parise , launching himself at Del Zotto. The picking on the power play, set plays, picking so we can't get to Kovalchuk to block a shot. If we want to start discussing officials with the media, I have a long list here." -- Tortorella
"Maybe if our players stayed down on the ice, we'll get something." -- Tortorella
"Comical." -- DeBoer's response to Tortorella.
"I'm not really worried what [DeBoer] has to say. He's not my coach." -- Prust
"Calling Prust a head hunter is unnecessary. He has been a pretty honest player his whole career." -- Marc Staal
"We stay down too long when we get hit? It doesn't feel that good to get hit in the head with elbows and stuff." -- Patrik Elias
And on and on. The Devils (and especially Brodeur, who essentially called Henrik Lundqvist lucky after his last shutout) have always resented the standing the Rangers have in the area while their own success goes largely unnoticed. The Rangers have to be a little irked by their younger brother's winning while they've tried many times and different ways to find a formula that works. The underlying psychoanalysis of the two teams' relationship with each other and the area is always in the background when these division foes meet. But now they're at each other's throats. Now it's a series. And we get to bask in the fun.