For the second consecutive season, the New York Rangers are back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As with any team coming off a Conference Final appearance, the element of surprise is no longer a tool to use against older opponents.
Now, not only are the Rangers expected to advance, but their trade deadline acquisitions leave little room for error as the team gets ready for their first-round matchup against the New Jersey Devils.
Similar to how the Blueshirts have been built in recent years, the Devils have moved past an elongated rebuild that’s taken years and high draft selections to materialize into wins. For the first time since the 2017-18 season, they are back in the playoffs thanks to their youthful enthusiasm and select veterans that have gelled well with the plan in place.
It’s the seventh time the Battle for the Hudson River will commence in the playoffs and with all four regular season matchups being highly competitive, fireworks are expected over the next few weeks.
Rangers vs. Devils 1st Round Schedule
|1||Tuesday, April 18||7 p.m.||Prudential Center, Newark, NJ||TBS|
|2||Thursday, April 20||7:30 p.m.||Prudential Center, Newark, NJ||TBS|
|3||Saturday, April 22||8 p.m.||Madison Square Garden, New York, NY||ABC|
|4||Monday, April 24||7 p.m.||Madison Square Garden, New York, NY||ESPN|
|5*||Thursday, April 27||TBD||Prudential Center, Newark, NJ||TBD|
|6*||Saturday, April 29||TBD||Madison Square Garden, New York, NY||TBD|
|7*||Monday, May 1||TBD||Prudential Center, Newark, NJ||TBD|
Tale of the Tape
|47-22-13 (107 points)||Record (Points)||52-22-8 (112 points)|
|24.08%||Power Play %||21.88%|
|81.17%||Penalty Kill %||82.61%|
Why the Rangers will win
The Kids: During last year’s playoff run, the kid line of Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko took the league by storm and overwhelmed great teams like Pittsburgh, Carolina, and even at times Tampa Bay. The trio all put up career numbers together in 2022-23 but won’t be surprising to anyone when the playoffs actually begin. New York knows what they have in its top two lines, but it’ll be the kids that determine how far they go.
Igor Shesterkin: When you look at the two teams, the only known advantage the Rangers actually have is in their netminder. While Shesterkin did not match his Vezina winning season in 2021, the Russian netminder still put up a career year in wins and finished in the top 10 in save percentage. New York needs to have the top netminder in the league primes and ready to go if they have any chance of slowing New Jersey down.
Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane: It’s still crazy to think that the Blueshirts didn’t just acquire Vladimir Tarasenko during the trade deadline, but also Patrick Kane. By doing so though, the “championship or bust” aspirations were highlighted throughout the remainder of the season. Both Tarasenko and Kane bring more to the team than last year’s acquisitions but that doesn’t mean the results will be the same. As long as both can produce at a high level though, the Rangers could very well overwhelm their cross-town rivals.
Rangers Line Projections
Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Patrick Kane
Artemi Panarin – Vincent Trocheck – Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexis Lafreniere – Filip Chytil – Kaapo Kakko
Jimmy Vesey – Barclay Goodrow – Tyler Motte
Ryan Lindgren – Adam Fox
K’Andre Miller – Jacob Trouba
Niko Mikkola – Braden Schneider
Why the Devils will win
Jack Hughes: The new points leader in a single season in Devils history, the former first-overall pick has broken out in a big way during the 2022-23 season. While he finished a point shy of 100, his play-making style has made him a matchup nightmare for anyone playing in New Jersey this season. Hughes recorded a point in all four games against the Rangers this season and could very well be the best player on the ice when the action begins on Tuesday.
Ondrej Palat: It hasn’t been the easiest year for the former Tampa Bay Lightning. Palat suffered a groin injury early in the year that caused him to miss multiple months and appear in just 49 games. There can be no denying his postseason acumen though, and that makes him a dangerous player to watch for. In 138 playoff games, the 31-year-old has totaled 48 goals and 46 assists – the 94 points are 119th overall in NHL playoff history. He’s a dangerous player to watch for when the playoffs begin.
Speed: The Devils possess one of the fastest teams in hockey this season thanks to the play style that head coach Lindy Ruff wants to run. That speed, coupled with the fact that the Rangers have struggled to defend the rush means the Devils will have a fundamental advantage going into their playoff series. Throughout the regular season, New Jersey exploited their rush defense to great effect and went 3-0-1 against the Blueshirts. If New York can’t find an answer to how their rivals play, it could be a difficult series for them to move past.
Devils Line Projections
Tomas Tatar – Nico Hischier – Dawson Mercer
Timo Meier – Jack Hughes – Jesper Bratt
Ondrej Palat – Erik Haula – Yegor Sharangovich
Miles Wood – Michael McLeod – Nathan Bastian
Jonas Siegenthaler – Dougie Hamilton
Ryan Graves — John Marino
Kevin Bahl — Damon Severson
Luke Hughes – Brendan Smith
Mackenzie Blackwood/Akira Schmid