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Devils Make East Finals A Best Of 3 With Convincing Game 4 Victory

Updated at 12:36 a.m., May 22, 2012

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The Eastern Conference Finals between the rival New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils finally got ugly — real ugly.

Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur was sucker punched in the third period by former teammate Mike Rupp. Coaches Peter DeBoer of New Jersey and John Tortorella of New York screamed at each other after the incident. And the Rangers blew their cool, as the Devils rode two goals and an assist by Zach Parise to a 4-1 victory on Monday night that evened the series, 2-2.

“Throughout a seven-game series,” Parise said, “both teams are going to get frustrated with things.”

Well, Monday was New York’s turn. And only time will tell if it spills over to Game 5, Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. As for Game 3, though, the story was the hit on Brodeur, who made 28 saves en route to his 10th win of the postseason.

After all, the punch came out of nowhere and almost set off a battle on the ice before the coaches got into it on the benches.

“You don’t like to see that,” DeBoer said of the hit on his goaltender. “He’s a key guy for us. Two teams battling it out. He’s a big boy. He can take care of himself.”

Brodeur was more surprised by the incident than anything else.

“I didn’t expect anything,” the 40-year-old said. “I never got punched like that in my career. First time. It kind of surprised me more than anything, but now I know I can take a punch.”

Tortorella refused to say anything about his shouting match with DeBoer, with whom he has argued several times this season, including Sunday when he complained about the Devils using illegal picks and embellishing penalties.

“This isn’t about John and I,” DeBoer said. “This is about the guys on the ice. So, I don’t have anything to say about that.”

This game — and its result — seemed almost anticlimactic after the shenanigans.

Bryce Salvador and Travis Zajac beat Henrik Lundqvist less than four minutes apart in the first to give the Devils their first two-goal lead in a series where the intensity and the emotions are picking up to the point where they now compare to the classic 1994 Eastern Conference Finals between these two rivals.

In that series, there were suspensions on both sides, three double-overtime games, a Game 6 “Guarantee” by New York captain Mark Messier, and unparalleled drama.

Well, this one is getting there.

On Monday, Brodeur, the only remaining player on either side from that 1994 series, even notched an assist in the third, on Parise’s empty netter, capping a game in which the Devils maintained their composure and bounced back from a 3-0 shutout in Game 3, while the Rangers took several uncharacteristic penalties and seemed rattled from the start.

And the chippin