When the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils face off Tuesday night in Game One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the rich history of the Battle of the Hudson River will be on full display. Six times the two teams have met in the playoffs throughout history with the seventh underway over the next few weeks.
For the Rangers, they aren’t new to the pressures that the playoffs bring having gone to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. With a more experienced roster at their disposal now, the goal has been clear to the team and their head coach, Gerard Gallant.
“We expect to go and win the Stanley Cup. That’s what we expected to do and day one starts with the playoffs,” Gallant said after practice Monday. “I think everybody in that room believes we can win the Stanley Cup. I think everybody in that room knows we can lose in the first round if we don’t play our best hockey. It’s a battle – there are no bad teams out there.”
Of course, winning 107 points and setting several franchise high marks is the sign of a good season, but it wasn’t enough to give the Rangers the home-ice advantage heading into the postseason. That instead falls to the upstart Devils. Behind Jack Hughes’ career year and overwhelming team speed, New Jersey poses several matchup concerns that the Rangers will need to keep an eye on once Game One begins.
According to the Blueshirts’ head coach, the Devils’ speed isn’t the main thing the team is focusing on.
“It’s a part of it. They play really well with their speed. We know what they do, but we gotta worry about our game. Managing the puck is going to be important for us, doing the right things and playing our game,” Gallant explained.
New York may not have a speed advantage in the matchup, but they do have playoff experience over their opponent. 10 players, including Hughes, will be getting a taste of the postseason for the first time in their careers. Even though experience can matter at times, Gallant was quick to draw comparisons to last year’s Rangers team that upset an experienced Penguins and Hurricanes roster in the playoffs.
“We had a good run last year which means nothing. It means nothing and I truly believe that. Who’s ready to play for the next two weeks? I truly believe that,” Gallant added.
But what about Jack Hughes? The expected future Hart Trophy finalist plagued the Rangers through four regular-season matchups this past year. Hughes tallied six points in four games against the Blueshirts while New Jersey won the season series 3-0-1.
For the Rangers, there’s nothing but respect for the youngest and brightest stars in the game.
“He (Hughes) is a talented guy, got a great hockey IQ. A great young player and he really jumped to another level this year,” said Gallant.
Containing Jack Hughes and the Devils’ speed has been on the mind of New York’s head coach, but limiting a boisterous crowd at the Prudential Center in Newark will be another way to gain momentum. New Jersey’s crowd hasn’t seen a playoff series since 2017 nor a playoff-round victory since the Cup Final team in 2011-12. Gallant isn’t the only member of the Rangers to get their first taste of the Hudson River rivalry but it’s something that the coach is looking forward to the most.
“I think it’s going to be great. When you play right across the river, it’s going to be awesome. I haven’t been a part of this rivalry obviously but I think it’s going to be fun. I think it’s going to be really good hockey.
The Rangers and Devils kick off their playoff series Tuesday night at the Prudential Center in New Jersey.