Can the New York Rangers contain Jack Hughes? Is New Jersey’s speed able to overcome the skill of Igor Shesterkin? Just how important can home ice be in a series that separates the two teams by a mere 12 miles?
All of these questions will be asked over the next couple of weeks as the Rangers and Devils meet for the seventh time in Stanley Cup Playoffs history. Both teams have recorded over 100 points to get to where they are now, but only one team will be able to advance to the next round of the grueling tournament.
So who has the edge in a series that features a top goaltender in the world and one of the brightest young stars in the game? With mere hours away from deciding Game One, it’s time to take a look at the top matchups leading up to tonight that could decide not just the incoming outcome, but the entire series in general.
Vincent Trocheck vs. Jack Hughes
This series is one of many reasons why Vincent Trocheck was brought into New York on a multi-year free-agent contract. Against a player who has reset the Devils’ record book in Jack Hughes, how Trocheck defends him and keeps him in check along the second line could very well determine which team ends up moving on. By all accounts, Trocheck has had a very good first season in New York while helping the team stabilize their face-off battles and offensive game after the top line. If the Rangers are to move on though, Trocheck will need to play his best hockey throughout this series.
As many saw in last night’s Islanders-Hurricanes contest, being successful on the powerplay is a major decider on if a team wins or loses in the playoffs. New Jersey owning the fourth-best penalty-kill unit in the league this season will make for an interesting challenge for the Rangers’ top-10 unit during the series. New York was 3-11 on the extra-man advantage against the Devils during the regular season. Those numbers will need to increase if they want to find an edge over the coming weeks.
Timo Meier vs. Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko
Both New Jersey and New York swung for the fences during the trade deadline with key acquisitions. Kane and Tarasenko are cup-winning players that have a history of playing well when the lights shine brightest. Both have been instrumental in the Rangers playing some of their best hockey to end the season. Meier on the other hand is one of the best scorers in the world currently, is younger than both his counterparts, and fits nicely with the Devils’ speed. Whichever team’s deadline pickups produce the most will be in a nice position to take command of this series.
The Kids vs. Ondrej Palat
The speed vs. experience line is going to be talked about throughout the series but one key layer to that conversation will be regarding the Rangers’ kid line. Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko pose a matchup nightmare for the Devils this series but going up against a tremendous playoff performer like Ondrej Palat won’t be an easy task. Palat has totaled 48 goals, 46 assists, and a plus-minus of +35 in 138 games in the playoffs in his career. That experience is a massive help for a young Devils team, but that could make for an interesting matchup with the complete game that the kids like to play.