- Last Updated: 3:07 AM, May 22, 2012
- Posted: 1:17 AM, May 21, 2012
Look, 1994 was once in a lifetime for the Rangers and the epochal Eastern Conference final was once in a generation for our teams, our fans and our towns.
There could be only one 54-year drought, only one “We’ll Win Tonight,” only one Game 7-tying goal with 7.7 seconds to go, only one Battle of the Hudson marked by breathtaking high-stakes hockey played by marquee players and personalities on each side that stands up to any NHL playoff series ever contested.
So this year’s Rangers-Devils conference final was never going to be a remake, and if it were, it would be like “Beverly Hills, 90210” without Brenda Walsh. No legacies to be made or to be lost here; merely a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
The first reel of the show has been kind of a disappointment. Little in the way of drama has been evident. Two teams that spent the six-game regular-season series snarling at one another when they weren’t dropping gloves off opening draws were politely pursuing their dreams.
Vanilla cone, vanilla cup, vanilla shake.
Not anymore. The flavor has changed in advance of tonight’s Game 4 at the Rock in which the Rangers will seek to take a 3-1 edge without Brandon Prust, suspended for one game for his elbow that nailed Anton Volchenkov in the head.
“You can sense the hatred building from the last game, especially with some of the big hits,” Michael Del Zotto told The Post after coming off the ice from yesterday’s optional skate at the Garden. “It feels like there’s something building.”
There were three incidents involving hits to the head in Saturday’s Game 3, but only one gained notice enough to be reviewed by the NHL after it had been replayed multiple times on the NBC telecast of the Rangers’ 3-0 victory. That was Prust’s elbow.
That was followed by Saturday’s post-game press conference in which Devils coach Pete DeBoer matter-of-factly labeled the incident, “Headhunting, plain and simple.”
What was plain and simple is the unpenalized Prust elbow at 2:38 of the second period came between the unpenalized Dainius Zubrus right elbow to Anton Stralman’s face that drew blood at 8:00 of the first period and the unpenalized leap from behind by Zach Parise onto Michael Del Zotto’s head when the Blueshirts defenseman was in pursuit of the puck with 6:22 remaining in the third period.
The Prust hit was replayed time and again on the telecast. The Parise hit served as a promo for NBC during yesterday’s Kings-Coyotes Game 4 for the network’s telecast of tonight’s match.
“It made my head snap forward,” Del Zotto told The Post. “I know one thing: I wouldn’t want to be hit like that 10 times a game.”
John Tortorella cited the hits from Zubrus and Parise in response to the “headhunting” label applied by DeBoer to Prust’s check, the Rangers coach also implying his players might get some justice if they would stay down on the ice after being hit, though that didn’t seem to work out so well when Brian Boyle was laid out by Chris Neil’s blow to the head in the Senators series, did it?
Tortorella also charged that the Devils routinely interfere on power plays by running designed “pick plays” to create time and space for shooters and the Blueshirts had both alerted officials to it and complained about the tactic in each of the past two games.
“Comical,” was DeBoer’s one-word retort to the charges, a reply that probably didn’t prompt a cottage industry to spring up to evaluate the meaning behind the response being so brief.
And by the way, Tortorella didn’t seem to be laughing.
There’s no logical explanation for the NHL’s decision to suspend Prust while codifying Zubrus’ blow and Parise’s hit. But there was no logic in Brendan Shanahan’s decisions that allowed Neil to concuss Boyle without punishment or allowed the Senators’ Milan Michalek to use his skate to kick his way out of a scrum with only a warning not to do it again or that legitimized Capitals star Alex Ovechkin’s leaping hit to Dan Girardi’s head.
Regardless, the Rangers go tonight without Prust. His absence will serve as evidence that the preliminaries are over in this series. Familiarity is breeding contempt.
“Hatred,” as Del Zotto put it.
The 2012 edition is about to stand on its own.