It's too late for hate.
The Rangers made some noise Sunday and Monday, though not the kind they've made everyone accustomed to this season. John Tortorella kicked off the Game 4 proceedings by pointing out some of the sneaky things the Devils had done and what the officials should watch out for.
After getting beaten to pucks and on the scoreboard in that Game 4, Tortorella and his Rangers got unnecessarily feisty. Mike Rupp poked at Martin Brodeur, Tortorella and Peter DeBoer exchanged angry words and the Rangers added an extra whack to the back of a Devil's leg or a crosscheck to a Devil's back every chance they could as the minutes wound down.
The story line coming out of Game 4 was the Rangers lashing out and the Devils, by far the better team this series, keeping their cool. So now the Rangers, a team that fairly chants the mantra "It's all about us" night after night, must truly heed that credo and start playing tonight's Game 5 like a team that looks inward for motivation, not outward.
"We play a particular way and when we have that swagger to our game, it's pretty evident we're clicking on all cylinders," Rupp said . "That's our goal, to get to that [Wednesday night]."
To get to that swaggering game, when the Rangers are finishing checks cleanly and making the ice seem heavy for their opponents, they will have to start faster and stronger than they have. That much is obvious to anyone who's watched this series, which is only a couple of Henrik Lundqvist gems away from being decidedly in New Jersey's favor rather than tied 2-2.
The Devils want the Rangers to be throwing jabs at their goaltender. They don't want to lose players to suspendable acts, but they seem willing to take the extracurricular blows the Rangers have delivered to either get a power play or get the Rangers chirping at the officials rather than focused on their style of play.
"The team that's going to be the most composed I think is going to have the most success," Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador said. "You don't like to see a play where your goalie is taking a sucker punch but now is not the time of the season to be responding to it. And potentially maybe they're getting frustrated. So we're really just focusing on playing between the whistles, and that's where we've been having success. Now is not the time to be settling scores."
There is only one score to settle for the Rangers. Brandon Prust, suspended for Game 4 and sorely missed for his competitiveness, will return. Brandon Dubinsky skated hard in the Rangers' brief practice and could return to add another layer of grit to a group of forwards that has underachieved this Eastern Conference finals.
No matter who's in and who's out for the Rangers, they need to tone down the rhetoric and the frustration and tune up the sandpapery edge that got them this far.
They have been the lesser of these two teams thus far, but the Rangers are not inferior. The regular season and their ability to forget bad games in the postseason demonstrates the mental toughness this team has.
Wednesday night, it's a matter of remembering who they are and what they've grown into under Tortorella, and blocking out the missteps and the cheap plays.
If they forget themselves again and lose focus, especially in the early going, the Rangers can forget about their Stanley Cup hopes.