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NHL approves of melee at Madison Garden

League takes no action following Rangers-Devils staged brawl

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Rugged Montreal Canadiens winger Ryan White watched the brawl off the opening faceoff between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils on television Monday night and called it "awesome."

"You don't see it very often. A lot of people don't really like it, but I bet the people at Madison Square Garden liked it. I liked it," White said. "I thought it was pretty cool. There were some big boys going at it, that's for sure."

The National Hockey League also apparently liked it, with the video of the donnybrook getting feature billing on the league's website and no fines or suspensions issued.

Even as both Hockey Canada and Hockey USA look at ways to reduce fighting, at least in minor and junior hockey, there was not a hint of disapproval of the mass brawl in New York among NHL players and coaches Tuesday.

"You see that the game is changing," said Montreal tough guy Brad Staubitz. "They're talking about taking fighting out of the game in junior and everything.

"I don't know if we'll see (brawls) too often anymore, but it is an exciting part of hockey."

Even a skill player liked the New York Islanders' John Tavares enjoyed the mayhem.

"I can understand from both those teams, playing against them a lot and being in the New York area and what those rivalries are like," he said. "You don't see that so much anymore, a few fights right off the draw like that. It really brings the intensity and the passion into the game.

"It's almost better to get it out of the way off the bat and play the game."

Actor and former wrestler Bill Goldberg gave his thumbs up with a link to the video on Twitter, writing: "My favourite sport ) Devils vs. Rangers in bloody brawl off opening faceoff."

While spontaneous fights are likely to happen no matter what penalties are in place, the main focus of the anti-fighting lobby is staged fights, where players are sent onto the ice to start bouts or when coaches match up their tough guys for a faceoff. Even the NHL has discussed bans on staged fights, but it has never been put into the rule book.

The melee in New York certainly qualified as staged.

To recap, when Rangers coach John Tortorella saw that Devils counterpart Peter DeBoer had his tough guys in his starting lineup, he sent out his scrappers as well. He even moved centre Brandon Dubinsky back to defence so Stu Bickel could be at the front of the action.

Three fights erupted off the opening faceoff with Bickel squaring off with Ryan Carter, Michael Rupp taking on Eric Boulton and Brandon Prust going toe-to-toe with Cam Janssen.

The Rangers won the game 4-2, clinched a playoff spot and evened the season series between the clubs at three wins apiece.

Later, DeBoer harkened back to the teams' meeting Feb. 7 in New Jersey, when he said Tortorella started his fighters and the Devils responded in kind. Two bouts broke out only two seconds in, with Janssen taking on Rupp and Boulton going with Prust. New Jersey won that game 1-0.

While the fiery Tortorella shouted at DeBoer from the bench on Monday night, the Devils coach responded that he must have a short memory or be a hypocrite to complain about putting tough guys in the starting lineup.

On Tuesday, Tortorella told reporters that DeBoer should "shut up" and that "the situation last night was disrespectful to the players and I think we took a step backwards."

He said staged fighting has "gotten old for me."

However, according to www.hockeyfights.com, the Rangers lead the NHL with 62 fighting majors this season, five more than Boston. The Devils are eighth with 38.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 21, 2012 C2

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