Brandon Proust and Eric Boulton square off in a pre-arranged fight at the start of a game between the Rangers and Devils.
Brandon Proust and Eric Boulton square off in a pre-arranged fight at the start of a game between the Rangers and Devils. REUTERS

The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils did their best to aid the cause of anti-fighting crusaders everywhere when they squared off in three simultaneous fights to open their game at Madison Square Garden last night.

Devils bruisers Ryan Carter, Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton squared off with Rangers tough guys Stu Bickel, Brandon Proust and Mike Rupp just three seconds into the game.

The fight was a completely staged affair. The evidence being that Bickel, a defenseman, lined up at center for the opening draw. It was the first faceoff he had ever taken, at any level going back to when he first laced up skates as a child.

Those in favor of fighting say that it keeps the rest of the game clean. If player knows that a punch in the face is the price of a dirty play then they will have an incentive to play clean.

Boulton said as much after the fight.

You want to send a message you can't be pushed around, Boulton said. I think we did that. It definitely (diffuses things). It lets the other guys play the game. We don't want to get pushed around. We're here to play.

But that's not what this was. It was theater, violent, bloody theater (literally, Carter's face was cut in his brawl and the ice crew had to scrape the pools of blood up before action could continue).

Martin Brodeur, a shoe-in Hall of Famer and an old school hockey guy, was not amused.

I don't like it, Brodeur said. I know the fans get into it. We're here to play. It takes 10 minutes to pick up the gloves and blood.

Fighting undoubtedly has a place in the sport of hockey, players, coaches and general managers overwhelmingly agree on that point, as do the majority of fans and it can't be denied that the brawl at MSG last night took and already electric atmosphere in the building and amped it up even more.

But with all of the emphasis on player safety, concussions, and head shots, as well as the much publicized deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak last summer, the spectacle at MSG is one that the NHL can ill afford.

Hockey is a violent game when played by the rules and, much like football, the violence is part of what makes it exciting. But staged fights are exactly the kind of thing that give hockey a bad name among the casual fans it so desperately needs in order to stay relevant in many parts of the United States.

A full video of the carnage is below: