It is a given that Rangers-Devils always carries a little something extra, even if both teams were at the bottom of the standings. But the Battle of the Hudson does feel a little more relevant this time around, with the Devils sitting in first place in the Metropolitan Division and the Rangers just above the playoff cutline as they ready for their second meeting of the season Monday.
In fact, with the Islanders also in a wild-card spot, this might just end up being the first season since 2006-07 that all three New York-area teams end up in the playoffs. But there’s a long way from now to then, and Monday night’s game at the Garden will be a proving ground for the Rangers, who carry a three-game winning streak back home.
“I watch a lot of their games, you see their games on TV,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said of the Devils. “Nothing to learn about them, they’re a good team. They were a young team that got better every year. They got some real good star players on that team, they play a fast game. It’s not a surprise to me. I knew they were gonna take a step this year, but they’re playing really well.”
Indeed, conventional wisdom held that the Devils would be better this season than their abysmal 2021-22 campaign, especially after signing Ondrej Palat during the offseason. But no one quite saw a 21-5-1 record coming, and they’ve largely done it without Palat, who last played Oct. 24.
The Devils have done it playing an immensely entertaining brand of hockey, ranking fourth in per-game scoring and second in per-game goal prevention. Centers Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier have both taken the next steps into becoming superstars, and the acquisition of Vitek Vanecek in nets has quelled one of their major weaknesses of last season.
It all adds up to a rivalry game with some juice — and the first time in a long time that the Battle of the Hudson has some weight outside local bragging rights.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Ryan Lindgren told The Post. “Obviously it’s always a good battle when we play them, but when we’re two top teams it makes it even more fun.”
If that weren’t enough, the divisional implications of any game within the Metro are big. Going into Sunday, just six points separated the second-place Hurricanes from the sixth-place Capitals, with the Rangers on the median of 33 points.
“Seems like every time you’re checking scores, it seems like a team that’s in our division is winning,” Lindgren said. “Obviously we gotta keep up with that.”
In the first edition of the rivalry a couple weeks ago, the Rangers scored twice in the game’s first 3:01, but quickly ceded momentum. The Devils tied it by the end of the first period, scored two more in the second and ended up leaving The Garden with a 5-3 win, memorably inspiring Igor Shesterkin to declare, “The goalie played a s–t game again. I’m ashamed.” It was just the second time the Devils had beaten the Rangers in the last 11 matchups between the two.
The Rangers have since gotten on steadier footing, beating Vegas and a banged-up Colorado on the road in the lead-up to this one.
This one figures to be a different kind of test, though.
“They’re fast, they’re skilled, they’re cohesive,” Chris Kreider told The Post. “They’re going good. They got a lot of offense from a lot of different guys. Good goaltending, good D, they’re a skilled team. It’s gonna be a really good challenge. Good test for us.”
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