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Fighting words: Playoff hockey or sending a message?

Opinions vary on the end of the game line brawl highlighted by Brian Boyle vs. Mikhail Sergachev.
New Jersey Devils center Brian Boyle (11) fights with Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98), of Russia, during the third period of Game 3 of an NHL first-round hockey playoff series, Monday, April 16, 2018, in Newark, N.J. The Devils won 5-2. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
New Jersey Devils center Brian Boyle (11) fights with Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98), of Russia, during the third period of Game 3 of an NHL first-round hockey playoff series, Monday, April 16, 2018, in Newark, N.J. The Devils won 5-2. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Published Apr. 17, 2018

NEWARK, N.J. — It all began in the first game of the series when Mikhail Sergachev said he tried to get under the skin of Brian Boyle.

"We just talk," Sergachev said.

Trash talk?

"Not trash," Sergachev said. "I didn't say anything bad."

Boyle responded in Games 2 and 3.

"He wasn't talking," Sergachev said.

Boyle's response was more of the physical kind, Sergachev said.

It came to a boil late in Monday's Game 3, when the two came to blows just seconds before the final horn of the Devils' 5-2 victory at the Prudential Center.

They wrestled to the ice.

"We were slamming each other. That's all we did," Sergachev said. "He tried to get under my skin. He said some bad words. I said some bad words. That's playoff hockey.

"That's the part everybody likes. Fans loved it. The boys loved it."

They shouted as they left the ice. Boyle pointed to his eyes and yelled, "I got my eye on you." Or something like that. Twitter offered two versions of what Boyle said, none of which you would say to your mother.

"At that point I can't really tell you what's going through my head," Boyle said Tuesday morning.

"I don't remember that part because I was all (ticked) off and stuff," Sergachev said a few hours later. "I don't remember anything. I didn't look at him. I was yelling at their bench."

The scrum with 23 seconds remaining was — depending on who you talk to — nothing more than the typical end-of-a-playoff-game tussle — or it was the "old sending a message" for Game 4, which is Wednesday night  at the Prudential Center.

The Lightning's Brayden Point: "Sometimes tempers flare, and it was good to see we stuck together in that moment. I don't think it's sending a message. I think it's heat of the moment."

The Lightning's J.T. Miller: "People were playing hard, playing hockey."

The Devils' Kyle Palmieri: "The extracurricular stuff that happens at the end of games is kind of washed away and then you reset, and you go out there ready to play between the whistles and play five-on-five hockey the next game."

Boyle: "It's over. It's done with. Things like that happened."

Then there was Sergachev, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound 19-year-old who gave away 3 inches, 30 pounds and 106 career playoff games to Boyle.

"We were losing. Obviously, we try to set a tone for next game at the end of the game," Sergachev said. "It's playoff hockey; everyone is trying to get under your skin. Obviously, if we were winning or it was tied I wouldn't do like (Monday). I let my emotions go."

Okay, then.

Boyle was not too keen on talking about the incident after the Devils' optional practice. But you came away with the impression that he is not a fan of the Lightning's rookie defenseman.

When asked how it all started, Boyle said, "You'll have to ask him."

"I was just trying to grab someone," Sergachev said. "All of a sudden I saw Brian Boyle."

Sergachev received an illegal hit to the head penalty five minutes earlier for a forearm to the head of Blake Coleman. That could have been on everyone's mind. Or maybe it was when Cory Conacher tossed Boyle's stick. Boyle mentioned that.

All 10 players on the ice paired up, and all 10 received 10-minute misconduct penalties. Lightning coach Jon Cooper joked that 20 or 30 years ago a line brawl like that would have drawn 400 minutes worth of penalties.

"Now the line brawls, all the gloves are still on," Cooper said. "It's different."

And despite what they say about it being playoff emotions and frustrations colliding at the end of an intense game, the players will remember it when they take the ice Wednesday.

Sergachev's teammates certainly will.

Lighting's Chris Kunitz: "It means he's invested in the team. He's got his heart into the game. He wants to get in there for his teammates."

Point: "Boyle is a pretty big dude and he stood up to him."

Contact Roger Mooney at rmooney@tampabay.com. Follow @rogermooney50.