A once dormant and seemingly ‘rival-less’ rivalry has now found itself new life following this last month of moves. Both the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils have re-tooled themselves and are ready to go to war once again.
Although both teams sat at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division last season, they are now coming into the 2019-20 season as some of the most exciting teams to watch in the NHL. Oct. 17 marks the first of four meetings between the two teams, and each will surely showcase a fiery and aggressive back-and-forth battle.
The Devils acquired defenseman P.K. Subban from the Nashville Predators, picked up center Wayne Simmonds in free agency and last but not least selected Jack Hughes with the first-overall pick of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
The Rangers youth has finally arrived. 2019 second-overall selection Kappo Kakko joins Vitali Kravtsov, Filip Chytil, Brett Howden and Lias Andersson. But, the focus isn’t entirely on the young guns, as the Rangers dug deep into their pockets to sign left-winger Artemi Panarin and sign-and-trade defenseman Jacob Trouba.
The Rivalry’s History
Since 1982, the Rangers and Devils have been bitter rivals. As two of the three teams in the New York Metropolitan area, Madison Square Garden sits just under 10 miles away from the Prudential Center. The closeness in areas, and split inside the states of New Jersey and New York, has been a contributing factor for fans of these teams.
The lifetime series in the regular season sits at 118-92-27-10 in favor of the Blueshirts. Additionally, the Rangers hold the upper hand in the postseason as well with an 18-16 lead. This rivalry was born in 1982, when the Devils relocated to New Jersey after stints as the Kansas City Scouts and Colorado Rockies.
1994 Eastern Conference Final
In the magical year of 1994, the Rangers pulled off some of the biggest moments in franchise history. They finished the regular season with a franchise-record in points with 112, which earned them the Presidents’ Trophy. Before going onto the Stanley Cup Final against the Vancouver Canucks and winning their first championship since 1940, they first had to get through the Devils in the Eastern Conference Final.
The series featured iconic moments in both Games 6 and 7. After the Devils took a 3-2 series lead, with Game 6 coming at home, Rangers captain Mark Messier spoke one of the most infamous quote in NHL history by saying, “We’ll Win Tonight.” Messier went on to have a hat-trick to ensure the victory and it was now down to a decisive seventh game. Game 7 was at Madison Square Garden on May 27, 1994. With the score tied at one goal apiece, and the game in a second overtime period, Rangers left-winger Stephane Matteau ended it with an unexpected and unbelievable goal.
An epic series ended with an unlikely hero 25 years ago today.
2008 Eastern Conference Quarter Final
Fast-forward to the 2007-08 season, and the Rangers and Devils meet again in the playoffs. This time, it was an intense feud between Rangers center Sean Avery and Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur. Instigated by Avery, he used a different kind of screen in front of Brodeur by having his back to the puck. This caused Brodeur to become agitated and worry more about Avery looking at him and waving a stick in his face, and less on the puck.
This tactic would later be deemed illegal, and called “The Sean Avery Rule.” The Rangers beat the Devils in five games. Jaromir Jagr led the series with eight points and was followed by longtime Devil turned Ranger, Scott Gomez.
2012 Eastern Conference Final
Nearly two decades after the 1994 Eastern Conference Final, the two teams would meet at the doorstep of the Stanley Cup Final once more. Contrary to last time, the Devils would get the upper hand in the series in a similarly heartbreaking fashion.
Entering Game 6, the Devils led the series and had home-ice advantage. In the first period, the Devils jumped ahead to a 2-0 lead thanks to Ryan Carter and captain Ilya Kovalchuk. But, in the second period, the Rangers bounced back with two of their own, compliments of Ruslan Fedotenko and captain Ryan Callahan.
At the end of regulation, it was still tied 2-2, and overtime ensued. With just over a minute left in the overtime period, Adam Henrique was hovering around the crease and put in the series-ending goal. For both fanbases, that goal will forever be engrained in their minds, but to two different reactions. Henrique became a hero in New Jersey, but a villain in New York.
2019 NHL Entry Draft
Enter the 2019 NHL Entry Draft Lottery. The Rangers were projected to be the seventh-overall pick and the Devils were projected to have the fifth-overall selection. But, both teams blew past their projected slots and the Devils became the first-overall pick and the Rangers were right behind them at No. 2.
Come draft night, it was a two-man show for the first pick. Hughes of the USNTDP and Kakko of TPS in Liiga were at the top of everybody’s list. General manager Jeff Gorton and the Rangers were happy and content with whoever the Devils passed on.
After Hughes was taken first overall by the Devils, Kakko was selected by the Rangers. The storyline is set between the two potential superstars and the rivalry between these two franchises is back.
The Future of the Rivalry
Both of these franchises made a plethora of moves this offseason and the rivalry has been re-ignited. Both the Rangers and Devils have an opportunity to be surprising teams in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference.
The most perfect scenario for this rivalry will be if they are both looking at the last wildcard playoff spot during their final meeting on March 7. Of course, nothing is perfect, and we will all have to wait and see if this dream could become reality.
Both of these teams have an opportunity, not only this season, but for seasons to come, to rise from the bottom of the NHL. Each game will mean a little something more from here on out. There is a lot to be excited about for fans of either the Rangers or the Devils.