Opponents of puck fisticuffs will claim that the game is good without the pugilism, for there is a poetry in the motion of skill - in, say, anything Pavel Datsyuk ever does.
But there is a beauty of another kind in the game, the kind that comes with the pure hatred of rivalries. Seeing the players' seething dislike for the opposition is positively heartwarming - because it is one of the rare moments when you can actually believe that they care as much as you do. The Mona Lisa moment of last night's game came off of the initial faceoff with it's trio of bouts.
These were no nonsensical staged bouts to justify the neanderthal goon culture, as many of the fights between these two teams have been this season. This was a statement by both squads, a warning that neither would be an easy opponent - especially with the playoffs coming and despite recent disappointments. And, unlike the February 7th game between the teams that also started with pugilism, the Rangers actually responded in this one with a spirited performance and they went on to defeat the Devils 4-2.
Now the trick of it will be gaining some momentum from the win. The schedule lends well to it as five of the next six games are against teams out of playoff position but that also means that they are all the more dangerous. The one that is against a playoff team is vs. Detroit but the Wings have melted without injured Nick Lidstrom; you'd suck too without the second- or third-best defenseman of all-time in your lineup. So we'll just have to see, but the win against New Jersey was a nice step forward.
*Should rumours be true and Martin Brodeur was thinking of calling it a career after this season, he might be reconsidering now. There is no way a competitor like he supposedly is would want to leave the lasting memory of this game as his final on Garden ice. Although he did manage to punctuate his performance with one of his signature flops; while his antics won't be missed, the serenades of Mmmmaaaaarrrrtttyyy from around the arena will.
*While mocking Mmmaaarrttyyy is always a fun pastime, it must be mentioned that his Ranger counterpart was not particularly good in this one either. Both goals against were uncharacteristically awful. As I tweeted, one has to wonder if he is playing himself out of his long-deserved Vezina. Pekka Rinne and Nashville are as good as ever while chinks are starting to appear in the King's armour. There is still time to get things back together but there is also enough cause for concern.
*French playwright Pierre Corneille wrote "to take revenge halfheartedly is to court disaster: Either condemn or crown your hatred." Brandon Dubinsky donned the crown on this night, with a little help from his friends. First Bickel battered Carter, and when that idiot Bryce Salvador tried to get involved Dubi was the first one over to intervene. Luckily Dubi escaped penalty himself as less than a minute later he converted a feed from Step for just his second goal in his last 20 games. And, to top it off, he fired the shot that Step tipped past Fatso for the game-sealing goal. It was good to see 17 step up and show he still can be a big part of this team, after more than a few nights of nothingness.
*Dubi's goal came after Step shanked his first pass attempt. The mistake drew the defender towards Step, opening up the lane for Dubi. Love when that works out that way. His own assist was just as fortuitous as it appeared like he was heading back to the bench when Hagelin's pass came from down low.
*Quickly on the fights, Stuuuuu vs Carter was clearly the top tilt of the three - even if most of the injury came from the fall to the ice. Rupp beat up Boulton, who seemed like he didn't want to fight. And poor Prust clung on to Janssen for dear life. Ever since that Barch fight earlier this season he simply has not been the same.
*Not sure how much credit should be given to the Devils but Marian Gaborik was limited to just two shots and missed the net on both. Gabby was largely invisible all night aside from one sexy shift with Hags and Richard$ where they kept the puck deep in the Devils end but ultimately came up empty.
*Seeing Kovalchuk get frustrated during the Devil power play in the third period brought back memories of the sweep of the Thrashers several years back. Delightful. It is amazing for as good a player as he is, how easy it is to knock him off his game.
*Yet another evening where Tim Erixon looked capable. The extra time with Wade Redden and JJ Daignault has certainly helped the Swedish youngster as he is stronger and more decisive. That being said, Torts clearly doesn't trust him and is trying to shield him from tougher opponents - tougher physically and skillfully. And yet Torts trusts Del Zaster despite being burned again and again. Ah well.
*Love everything that Zuke is doing right now. The Norwegian registered three hits - one of which was outstanding on Volchenkov in the corner - and he added a power play goal, one from going to the net and being in a position to pounce when the puck went his way. It is clear that the kid has done all that he has to in his own end to gain Torts' trust and earn more ice time. Now whether it will earn him a new contract is something else ...
*PHW Three Stars
3-Mats Zuccarello - one goal.
2-Brandon Dubinsky - one goal and one assist.
1-Ryan Callahan - two assists.
Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Hagelin - Bork bork bork.
2-Cap'n Cally - He leads, they follow.
1-Dubi - Nice to see him again, eh?