Move over Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, the best rivalry in the National Hockey League is now between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers.
Sure, it might not be a ratings giant, but the fact that the two teams are separated by just 14 miles and share (along with the New York Islanders) the largest sports market in the United States – though the Devils are certainly treated like the little brother – only adds to the intensity.
The Rangers are one of the original six NHL teams and had the New York market all to themselves until the Islanders claimed their piece of the pie in 1972. 10 years later, the Colorado Rockies moved to New Jersey and tried to become a fly in the ointment. As expected, it took the Devils quite a long time to build up a fan-base, stealing away some Rangers fans, while creating their own fan base after a few years. By the end of the 1980s the Devils were relevant, while the Rangers were haunted with the fact that the franchise hadn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1940.
Then the two teams met in the postseason for a seven game matchup in the 1992 Patrick Division Semifinals. The Rangers convincingly won Game 7 by an 8-4 score, but eventually lost in the Division Finals. Two seasons later, the two teams found themselves once again matched up in the playoffs, but this time it was the Eastern Conference Finals, meaning a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals was on the line. The series would eventually go down as one of the greatest ever played and Game 6 brought the infamous Mark Messier guarantee that the Rangers would win. It was followed up by a Game 7, double-overtime wrap-around goal by Rangers left-winger Stephane Matteau – a goal we’re sure Martin Brodeur still wants back to this day. As if that wasn’t tough enough for the Devils and their fans, the Rangers broke their 44 year drought and paraded the cup down Broadway in early June.
The Rangers kept the Devils as their personal punching bags, winning two other postseason matchups against New Jersey, while the Devils have one notch in their belt. But 1994 is still very much talked about in the greater New York area.
The Devils aren’t too upset though. They’ve won three Stanley Cups since ’94.
The two might play each other six times a year, which makes for good hockey, but it’s the playoffs that leave us with familiar images and help build a hate for our opposition. The Rangers haven’t been back to the Finals since 1994 and the only team standing in their way – yes, you guessed it – the Devils.
These two teams hate each other as much as ever. The season series was split this year, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
During their third meeting, two fights broke out immediately after the opening faceoff. It was initiated by the Rangers, so in retaliation the Devils opened up the last regular season contest by starting three simultaneous fights, which had Rangers coach John Tortorella livid, claiming that the fights were “disrespectful to players” and that hockey took “a backwards step,” blaming Devils coach Peter DeBoer for planning the fisticuffs.
For the Rangers, their first two series have taken a full seven games, while the Devils won their first in seven and their second in five. Both teams have played a lot of hockey and as they continue to battle, it seems only a matter of time before the next chapter of this rivalry is born.
The Rangers already have a 1-0 series lead , but this series has all the makings of a classic that could certainly go six or seven games.
Photo Credit: AP