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Rangers coach John Tortorella, centre, will miss Game 6 after the NHL suspended him for getting into a confrontation with a Washington fan Friday night. (Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

The NHL has suspended New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella for one game after a dispute involving a fan during a Stanley Cup playoff match Friday night in Washington.

Tortorella squirted a water bottle at a fan and also took a stick from the bench and shook it at the spectator, who was directly behind the Rangers' bench in Game 5.

It appeared the fan may have poured beer on Tortorella during the game, as video replays showed the coach using a towel to wipe off his suit.

But after investigating, the NHL concluded that Tortorella was doused with a beverage only after he sprayed water into the crowd.

"It is a difficult decision to suspend a coach at this point in a playoff series," NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell said. 

"[But] it has been made clear to all of our players, coaches and other bench personnel that the National Hockey League cannot — and will not — tolerate any physical contact with fans."

Rangers lead series

The incident occurred at 6:33 in the third period of Friday's game, which Washington won 4-0. The Rangers still lead the best-of-seven playoff series 3-2.

The NHL has taken a strict approach when it comes to confrontations between club personnel and fans, even in situations where the spectators become abusive.

"We do not tolerate contact with our fans in this manner. That is communicated before each season in a memo that is issued by the league to all of the management, coaches and players of every team," Campbell said.

Even if it's only water that is being sprayed, the NHL says it's still a serious offence, since it can provoke an unruly fan.

Tortorella has not commented on the incident, indicating the Rangers' management have instructed him not to say anything about what happened.

The Rangers said in a release: "We disagree with the suspension and will have no further comment."

Tortorella will miss Game 6 of the series Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. Assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld will take his place.

Tortorella's suspension comes just days after he criticized forward Sean Avery for his behaviour in Game 4. Avery didn't dress for Game 5 after he took two penalties late in the previous game.