Rangers-Devils Playoff Series Would Reignite Their Rivalry

There is a good chance the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils clash in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. New Jersey and New York are in second and third place in the Metropolitan Division, respectively. If the playoffs began today, the clubs would meet in a first-round series.

Artemi Panarin New York Rangers Ondrej Palat New Jersey Devils
Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers tries to get by Ondrej Palat of the New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference Final last year, so there were expectations they would be good this year. The Devils, on the other hand, have exceeded regular-season expectations. They recently clinched their first postseason berth since 2017-18. The numerous years of rebuilding for New Jersey appear to be finally paying off.

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If the two rivals meet in the playoffs, it will be the first time since 2012. Since the Devils relocated from Colorado for the start of the 1982-83 season, New Jersey and New York have met in the postseason six times. The Rangers hold a 4-2 advantage in their playoff matchups. Two memorable playoff series between the franchises were the 1994 and 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. Let’s take a look at why a postseason series between the teams would reignite their rivalry.

The Devils Are Seeking Postseason Experience

The Devils are an unknown entering the postseason given their extensive playoff absence. They possess an exciting core consisting of Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Dawson Mercer, Dougie Hamilton, and Jesper Bratt. These players are eager to take the next step in their respective careers by competing for a championship. The club is an underdog due to their recent lack of playoff experience, and this year’s postseason will be significant for them to build upon next year.

Kristy Flannery, a credential writer covering the Devils for The Hockey Writers, responded to how far she thinks the team will go in the postseason, “it’s so hard to say because the playoffs are a completely different animal. Once in, any team has a chance to win. There are a ton of factors that can dictate how far they can go including injuries to their team and their opponent. The biggest question is if they have the size and physicality to withstand the wear and tear of the postseason.” The franchise’s recent inexperience in the Stanley Cup playoffs makes it difficult to determine how they will fare in the postseason this year.

The Rangers Are Seeking to Win the Stanley Cup This Year

The Rangers’ expectations this season were heightened even further following their additions of Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane during the trade deadline. If the club does not win the Stanley Cup, their season will be viewed as a massive underachievement. They have an excellent core that took a big step forward last year in Gerard Gallant’s first season as head coach of New York.

Following last season’s playoff run, the Rangers expect to reach their second Stanley Cup Final since 1994. They have a great core of players in Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Igor Shesterkin, Chris Kreider, and Adam Fox. The additions of former Stanley Cup winners in Tarasenko and Kane could help New York win their first championship in 29 years.

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Tarasenko and Kane have different roles with the Rangers than with their previous clubs. Prior to joining New York, both of them were core players for the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, respectively. Now, both are on a team that already has a good foundation in place. They are potential difference-makers if the Rangers win the Stanley Cup this year.

The Devils Are Having a Great Season

The Devils are having a remarkable season, and they have an opportunity to win their first playoff series since 2012. The franchise and fans are hoping this year is the start of consecutive appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They had many great teams during Martin Brodeur’s 21 years with New Jersey. Hughes, like the Hall of Fame goalie, is a former first-round pick by the Devils that has the talent to lead them to multiple championships.

John Marino New Jersey Devils
John Marino, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Why has 2022-23 been successful for the Devils? Flannery wrote, “it’s a season where everything went right. They have gotten reliable goaltending throughout the season and Hughes and Hischier were able to remain healthy with the former having a breakout season. Veterans like Brendan Smith, Erik Haula, and Ondrej Palat have been able to teach this young team valuable lessons like the importance of collecting early points and being comfortable with being uncomfortable. Devils general manager (GM) Tom Fitzgerald really improved the blue line with the addition of John Marino.”

The Devils have played the Rangers tough based on their three matchups this year. New Jersey is 2-0-1 against New York, and the rivals have played in two contests that went into overtime (OT). They play their last game against one another on March 30 before potentially meeting in a first-round playoff series.

Both Clubs Have Good Offense and Goaltending

The Devils have a 3.45 goals for per game played (GF/GP), which is tied for fifth in the league with the Los Angeles Kings and Florida Panthers, while the Rangers rank 12th with an average of 3.33 goals for per game played. The top-six forwards of both franchises are as exciting to watch as any other team in the NHL. New Jersey also got better offensively at the trade deadline by acquiring Timo Meier from the San Jose Sharks. He was one of the more sought-after players during the deadline period and will help his new team during the postseason.

The Devils’ addition of Vitek Vanecek has impacted their success this season. They struggled with inconsistent and unreliable play at the goaltending position before this year. Vanecek has appeared in 47 games, has a .909 save percentage (SV%), and a 2.50 goals-against-average (GAA) for New Jersey. The Rangers’ Shesterkin has a .914 save percentage in 52 appearances, along with a 2.55 goals-against-average. Both teams have excellent offensive playmakers, but the goaltending could be just as exciting to watch if they meet during the 2023 Playoffs.

The competitive rivalry has reignited this year between the Devils and Rangers and would escalate further if they meet during the 2023 Playoffs. Considering the breakout regular season New Jersey is having, 2023 could be the first of many years the clubs cross paths during the postseason. If the adversaries have a series that goes seven games, it will help further rekindle a rivalry. A playoff series between them “would be one of the best matchups of the postseason” according to Flannery. Given their close proximity, history, and competitiveness of games already played in this year, I would concur with her assessment.

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