NEWARK, NJ - MAY 21: Linesman Brian Murphy #93 pulls Mike Rupp #71 of the New York Rangers away from Martin Brodeur #30 after an altercation in the third period of Game Four of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Prudential Center on May 21, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Let's face it, John Tortorella will never be described as gracious, classy or polite. And his curt, less-than-verbose press conferences this postseason have become legendary. Does he act like a jerk to deflect attention and pressure away from his team? Maybe. But he also can surprise -- after Game 3, the coach of the New York Rangers calmly answered questions as if he were a normal human being. But then Sunday's Q&A came along, and gamesmanship or a war of words (take your pick) ensued. After Pete DeBoer called Brandon Prust's hit on Anton Volchenkov "head hunting," Tortorella fired back. People wanted more from Tortorella than "Next question," "We'll keep it in the room" and "No"? Well, they got it. He launched an assault on Dainius Zubrus and Zach Parise and accused the New Jersey Devils of flopping, taking dives and setting picks. Tortorella clearly does not like Pete DeBoer, and he's defending his team and his players in his own unique way. That unique way, though, clearly rubs many the wrong way.
DeBoer, for his part, seems like a nice, thoughtful man, but even his style during this postseason has caused a few to bristle. He gave a one-word response to Tortorella's charges from Sunday: "Comical." And the Devil coach continues to play the aggrieved, self-righteous, self-appointed voice of reason -- but he must have had his head turned when Ilya Kovalchuk speared Ryan Callahan, Zubrus belted Anton Stralman with an elbow to the chin and all the other rough stuff that every team, including his own, commits. DeBoer clearly detests Tortorella, and he's defending his team and his players in his way.
Things came to a boil in Game 4, with the two coaches jawing at each other as slight mayhem took place on the ice. Both sides are pointing fingers; both teams can't stand the sight of each other. But a third perspective was voiced in the form of a pair of grizzled veterans of playoff hockey, when, in the MSG postgame show, Ken Daneyko and Brian Leetch chuckled at everything that occurred in Game 4, and essentially said, "That's playoff hockey. Nothing wrong with anything that took place on the ice. A jab here, a punch there, that's the way it goes." Maybe everybody is right.
And now on to the other top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
Oh Yeah, the Games: The Rangers can't score. The Devils will forecheck them to death. The Rangers spend too much time in their own zone. John Tortorella's press conference will consist of five words total. Those were some of the storylines heading into Game 3. And when the Rangers put the finishing touches on their 3-0 win, it was the Devils who couldn't score as they were unable to solve Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers' forecheck was the one that produced goals (with a second-period timeout being a momentum-changer for New York), the Blueshirts were as comfortable in their own zone as they are in their own skin and Tortorella acted like just another coach in the postgame press conference. As Mike Rupp gave his former teammate, Martin Brodeur, a little love tap for old time's sake after being called for a penalty for we're-not-sure-what and other antics and high jinks in Game 4, the Devils completely dominated the game, winning 4-1, led by their captain, Parise, who scored two goals and added an assist after giving the media the Heisman following Game 3. New Jersey did everything better than the Rangers, including keeping their composure, as the Blueshirts continue to do everything the hard way and make things difficult for themselves. But it was just a matter of time before the Rangers played a good game, after being subpar for the first four games, and they looked like their old selves in Game 5. They were a buzzsaw for stretches of the game, dominating the Devils physically and every other way, but still, somehow they lost, 5-3, with Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter the heroes for New Jersey. Now the Rangers know how the Devils felt in New York's two wins in the series, outplaying the other team but coming out on the short end of the stick. Even when New Jersey was scoring three early goals, the Rangers were carrying the play. It was a forgetful night for both goalies, as Lundqvist had his worst game of the playoffs and Brodeur made the blooper reels with his gaffe on New York's third goal. But now the Devils have the Rangers right where they want them, with a chance to end the series on home ice, while the Rangers were in this exact situation just a few weeks ago against the Ottawa Senators (not to mention 18 years ago to the day) and pulled out a series victory. Will the Rangers do it one more time? Or will the Devils continue their storybook climb to the finals? Brodeur gets the last word: "This situation is what creates history. Whatever happens in the next few days is what this rivalry is all about."
A Hint of Things to Come? Most of the week for the New York Yankees could have been summed up as such: Andy Pettitte good, offense bad. On Friday night, Pettitte threw eight shutout innings while the offense only scratched out one run until tacking on three more in the eighth inning, beating the Cincinnati Reds, 4-0. But in the next three games, all losses, the lineup went from not good enough (a 6-5 loss to the Reds in which Ivan Nova was mediocre) to bad (falling 5-2 to Cincinnati) to putrid (a 6-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Kansas City Royals). But on Tuesday (after a team meeting), three runs were enough, as Phil Hughes tossed six pretty good innings and Rafael Soriano picked up the save (is Brian Cashman happy to have him around now?), edging Kansas City, 3-2. And in the final game of the week, Pettitte was once again rock solid, and the offense finally exploded, in the 8-3 victory over the Royals, led by Alex Rodriguez's two home runs. Are the last two games a sign of things to come for the Yankees? Or will they continue to descend into the land of mediocrity, with an inconsistent offense and inconsistent starting pitching? One thing is for certain, though, at least according to the Steinbrenner family -- the Yankees are not for sale.
The Knuckleball, Two Nieses & a Pair of Hefners: The two best pitchers for the New York Mets in the series vs. the Toronto Blue Jays were catcher Rob Johnson and the just-called-up Jeremy Hefner, hence they only came out of Canada with one victory. After Jon Niese got shellacked in Friday's 14-5 loss, Johnson threw a one-two-three eighth utilizing a fastball, cutter and curve. And Hefner stepped in to replace Miguel Batista (who left early with back soreness) in Saturday's 2-0 loss to hurl five solid innings. The Mets finally won a game in Toronto on Sunday, keyed by Mike Baxter's single, double and triple and David Wright's two-hit, two-RBI performance, which catapulted him into second place on the franchise's all-time hit list, passing Jose Reyes and only behind Ed Kranepool. Frank Francisco recorded the save against his old team. There was no need for Johnson to take the mound in Pittsburgh, as two of the three starters in the series were outstanding. After Johan Santana put in an average outing in Monday's 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates (when the team was doomed by Baxter's fielding blunder, which put the winning run on third base), R.A. Dickey and Niese threw a pair of gems. Dickey struck out a career-high 11 batters in his seven-inning, one-run stint in Tuesday's 3-2 victory, and in his always fascinating postgame interviews, it's interesting to note that he talks about his knuckleball as if it's a separate entity from himself, a creature all its own: "It was consistently good throughout the game, which was nice." Not "I threw the knuckleball . . ." or "My knuckleball . . ." but "It . . ." Niese recovered from his Canadian disaster, and followed Dickey with a masterpiece of his own, in Wednesday's 3-1 win, only allowing one run in seven-plus innings, while Francisco notched his second easy save in as many days, and one day after Tim Byrdak came up with a key strikeout, Bobby Parnell did the same on Wednesday. The Mets wrapped up their week by losing to the San Diego Padres, 11-5, in the series opener, with Hefner, making his first big league start, most likely being affected by the rain delay, as he was two different pitchers pre- and post-delay.
The David Wright Watch: With three more hits last night, the Met third baseman's average is up to .405. He has a .500 OBP, .628 slugging percentage and a 1.128 OPS.
Basketball Notes: All signs point to the New York Knicks signing Mike Woodson to a long-term deal. Despite capturing the Defensive Player of the Year award, Tyson Chandler was named to the NBA's All-Defensive Second Team. He and Carmelo Anthony made the All-NBA Third Team. And Iman Shumpert earned All-Rookie Team honors, while MarShon Brooks of the Brooklyn Nets was named to the second team.
Football Notes: The New York Jets signed former Miami Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell, while they'll temporarily be saying good-bye to defensive end Kenrick Ellis, who will serve 45 days in prison beginning June 15, on a misdemeanor assault and battery charge. The New York Giants couldn't make it through a couple of days of OTAs with disaster striking, as wide receiver Hakeem Nicks broke his foot and is expected to miss approximately three months, and cornerback Brian Witherspoon reinjured his ACL after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. In the good-news department, Tom Coughlin received the Army's Outstanding Civilian Service Award, which couldn't have gone to a nicer guy.
R.I.P. Eugene Polley: Who is Eugene Polley, and what does he have to do with New York sports, you ask? Well, he invented the television remote control back in the 1950s while working as an engineer for Zenith. He passed away on Sunday, at the age of 96. How could we watch all these hockey and baseball games at the same time this past month without his invention? Thanks, Eugene, and rest in peace -- you've earned it.
The Roger Clemens Saga: The former Yankee's trial can be summed up simply with an old George Costanza quote: "Jerry, just remember, it's not a lie if you believe it."
And that's the New York week that was.