Devils head coach Peter DeBoer, right, looks on against the...

Devils head coach Peter DeBoer, right, looks on against the Rangers during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. (May 23, 2012) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Until this week, the average New York sports fans could not have identified Peter DeBoer if he or she had bumped into him on the sidewalk -- while he was wearing a Devils cap and blowing his practice whistle.

But deep into the close, contentious Eastern Conference finals, and especially after his Game 4 shouting match with the Rangers' John Tortorella, the Devils' first-year coach suddenly has become a familiar face.

Rangers fans certainly knew where to find him during Game 5 at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night, directly behind the visiting bench, where he was anticipating the customary verbal barrage.

When asked after yesterday's morning skate to share some material he has heard, he said, "No language that you can say on the record. But you know what? It's a great building, a great environment.

"That's what playoff hockey is all about, the fans screaming at you, the passion in the building. You try to tune that stuff out. I can't give you a specific insult, but there are lots of them."

Rangers fans presumably didn't have much to say to DeBoer early in the game, as their team quickly fell behind 3-0.

But he hasn't needed Rangers fans to hear harsh words during the series. Tortorella has taken care of that, not only during their verbal altercation Monday but also when he accused the Devils Sunday of over-dramatizing injuries.

DeBoer's one-word response: "Comical.''

In the wake of the argument with his counterpart, several Devils said it was in keeping with DeBoer's fierce loyalty -- and underrated tough streak.

"We know how much of a competitor he is, and he cares about his players," captain Zach Parise said. "And he cares about winning, and he's emotionally involved in the game just like we all are. And so I think it's great to see when your coach is involved in that and cares like that.''

Said goaltender Martin Brodeur: "He's got a fire, no doubt. And it's nice to see for the guys.''

So, who is Peter DeBoer?

The 43-year-old came out of the Ontario Hockey League in 2008 to coach the Florida Panthers, failing to make the playoffs in three seasons. The Devils' Lou Lamoriello hired him anyway, surprising many in hockey.

It presumably was time for something dramatic after the team missed the playoffs last season. DeBoer quickly got veterans to buy into his system, which is more aggressive on offense than has been customary for the franchise. Players have praised his openness and communication, and his (mostly) calm, cerebral approach.

Although he never made it to the NHL as a player, he did reach the International Hockey League, where in his final season with the Milwaukee Admirals in 1990-91 he was a teammate of future Islanders coach Jack Capuano, who remains a friend.

By the way, DeBoer has a law degree from the University of Windsor, so he presumably was armed with the verbal skills to keep up with Tortorella. And perhaps, if need be, with the Rangers fans seated behind him at the Garden.