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Bad Blood Comes to the Eastern Conference Finals

Tortorella launches war of words in advance of Game Four

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    Tortorella threw a bit more fuel on the Game Four fire.

    The Rangers-Devils rivalry has always been a bit of an odd one.

    Even without a good Islanders team in ages, there's an enmity between them and the Rangers that goes far beyond anything we've seen from the Rangers and Devils over the years. The Devils used to measure themselves with the Rangers and beating them was something to build around, a sentiment that has never really been returned from the other side of the Hudson.

    You might argue that 1994 was a heated series, because it was, but it was much more about the Rangers finally avoiding the trap door and ending the 54-year Cup drought than it was about beating the Devils. They were just the team in the way and since they become a power at just the moment when the Rangers fell apart, the rivalry never developed the kind of coarseness that exists with the Islanders. 

    We might just change that before the Eastern Conference Finals come to a close. John Tortorella used Sunday's day off to call the Devils a bunch of cheating, thieving so-and-so's who had the league in their hip pocket.

    Tortorella took issue with Devils coach Peter DeBoer calling Brandon Prust's elbow against Anton Volchenkov head-hunting, an assessment that the league agreed with by suspending Prust for Monday night after ignoring similar hits in this series and throughout the postseason. Tortorella pointed out some unpenalized play by the Devils and also intimated that the Devils took lessons from European soccer on flopping.

    "Pruster’s played probably about 300-plus games without any hearings or anything going on. He’s probably one of the most honest players. Maybe if our players stay down on the ice, we’ll get some [calls]. We tell our players don’t stay down on the ice. ‘Get up.’ ... I look at Dainius Zubrus with an elbow to Stralman. I look at [Zach] Parise, launching himself at [Michael] Del Zotto. The picking on the power play, set plays, picking on the power plays. If we want to start discussing officials with the media, I have a long list here. That’s a set play by New Jersey, picking so we can’t get to [Ilya] Kovalchuk to block a shot."

    DeBoer replied that Tortorella's assertions were comical. There's a pretty good chance that DeBoer won't find anything Tortorella said all that comical if his team gets hit with an interference penalty on Monday night.

    Coaches have made a habit of complaining publicly for calls for as long as there have been coaches and referees. Those entreaties have often been rewarded with a call here or there from an official whose focus has been altered by the off-ice chatter so it was worth the shot for Tortorella to engage in a bit of self-professed gamesmanship. 

    It's funny that Tortorella has figured out a way to make headlines twice in this series with totally different performances for the media, but they both have been designed with something a little more in mind. Tortorella made himself the story after Game Two and he's come up with a way of potentially helping his team in Game Four simply by opening his mouth.

    He's also made it a lot likelier that Game Four is going to feature more hitting than we've seen to this point. Although Prust's loss is a negative in that type of game, the style would still seem to benefit the Rangers.

    It would make the game come down to effort and goaltending, two things the Rangers have had in ample supply this season.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.