I have been to Prudential Center to see plenty of New Jersey Devils games over the past decade or so, and am therefore no stranger to rivalry games against the New York Rangers. The Hudson River rivalry has provided some memorable moments, whether it was a goaltending duel between Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist or a line brawl to start a game. After the departures of exceptional goaltenders, a hot-headed coach, and key players over the past few seasons, it seems like the rivalry has become a shadow of its former self.
The missing intensity makes sense as both teams have been in a rebuild for the past several seasons, focusing on getting younger and building the next generation of Stanley Cup contenders. Over time, each team has acquired first-overall picks and made big splashes in the offseason. The Rangers are third in the Metropolitan Division, and a big reason for that is the play of goaltender Igor Shesterkin. The Devils are seventh in the division and have had problems with instability in the crease.
On Tuesday night, head coach Lindy Ruff’s team hosted Chris Kreider and the Rangers, and it was a reminder of how much fun this rivalry is and will be in the future. It was my first time experiencing the matchup as a member of the media, and it was one of the most memorable games this season.
Setting the Stage for an Intense Rivalry Game
As I turned onto Raymond Boulevard yesterday evening I began to see members of the Blueshirt Faithful scattered on the sidewalk heading towards the arena. By the time Prudential Center came into focus, I felt surrounded by fans in blue jerseys and baseball caps. Seeing Rangers fans in Newark is expected, as ticket prices are much more affordable in New Jersey, but what I was witnessing was something different.
As I made my way into the building and up to the press box, the teams were already in the midst of their pregame warmups. Looking down, my eyes were met by a sea of blue jerseys, the most I have ever seen at Prudential Center. The players skated back to their respective locker rooms as fans continued to file in. By the time the Devils PA Announcer Joe Tolentino made his pregame announcements, the arena seemed to be 80 percent Rangers fans. Fans of the visiting team made their presence known before puck drop as “Let’s Go Rangers” chants echoed out early. I remember watching the first few minutes thinking this must be what Madison Square Garden is like.
After the game, Jack Hughes was asked about the atmosphere and if he recognized the number of road fans in the building.
“It’s obviously pretty evident. It’s a blue jersey and a red jersey. You can tell who is here and who is not,” said Hughes. “They were pretty pumped up in the first period, and it was great for our fans to have a huge win against rivals. They come to our building, and they want to win, and they have really passionate fans, and so do we. For us to get a win at home with a crowd like that, it’s very encouraging for our fans.”
A Rivalry Restored
After falling behind by two goals, the Devils came out in the second period and put five pucks by Shesterkin as the tides turned on the ice and in the stands. For the first time, “Let’s go Devils” chants echoed throughout the arena as fans of the road team watched the Rangers let their lead slip away, and their star goaltender was eventually pulled in favor of Alexandar Georgiev.
The Rangers scored two goals in the third, but thankfully, so did Hughes to secure a 7-4 victory for the home team. During his postgame press conference, Ruff talked about his team treating these final 20 games as their playoffs, and last night provided a playoff atmosphere for the 16,000 plus passionate fans in attendance. Speed and skill were on display, and fights broke out between heated fans in the stands. All in all, it was the perfect rivalry night that saw the home fans celebrate a big win after seeing their team drop three consecutive games. The two teams will meet at Prudential Center one more time in April. If the energy of last night can be restored, the price of admission will be worth every penny.
An Exciting Time to Be a Devils or Rangers Fan
Except for goaltending, these teams are mirror images of each other. The Rangers have Adam Fox, who is the reigning Norris Trophy-winner, and the Devils have Dougie Hamilton, who has finished within the top 10 of Norris Trophy voting twice in the past three seasons. Hughes and Alexis Lafrenière were both first-overall picks, and Jesper Bratt and Kreider are in the midst of breakout seasons.
These matchups are always marked on the calendar, but it feels that something special is brewing as these two teams set themselves up to be true competitors over the next couple of seasons. The Devils have taken positive steps over the past few months, and I think fans can agree an offensive core led by Hughes, Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Dawson Mercer is an exciting one. New Jersey’s general manager Tom Fitzgerald has said on multiple occasions he needs to address the team’s goaltending situation, and once the team finds consistency in the crease, there is no telling how far they can go.
The Metropolitan Division is among the toughest in the league but over time, who is the best will change. The New York Islanders, Washington Capitals, and Pittsburgh Penguins have aging stars, and their reign at the top could be coming to an end. The Devils and Rangers are primed to take over, and that alone should leave fans excited for what is to come.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.