12 miles separate the Rangers’ home fortress of Madison Square Garden from the Prudential Center in New Jersey.
It may not seem like a major difference. Both the Rangers and Devils’ fanbases can easily hop a train and diminish what has been two very strong home-ice advantages. But home ice during a playoff series matters, and when the two teams meet on Thursday night, that’s what will be at stake for either team as the Stanley Cup Playoffs draw closer.
Both New York and New Jersey have clinched playoff berths this year. The Devils have been sitting behind Carolina in second place in a loaded Metro division for the better part of the last few months. Following a 4-4-2 run in their last 10, the Devil’s reign as the second-best team in the Metro is being called into question at the worst possible time for them.
For the Rangers, there isn’t a team in the NHL playing better than them right now. They are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, have won seven of their last eight, and especially the last three games. Their point differential has improved to second-best in the entire Eastern Conference, and they have given up the fourth-less goals across the entire league.
And a win Thursday night would not only put them in second place in the Metro but also give them home ice in a playoff series against those same Devils.
“You want to keep moving up the standings. It won’t matter – second or third, you’re going to play them anyways. It’s going to be a fun game, good atmosphere, and start getting your game to the level you need to be at,” captain Jacob Trouba said after the Rangers win Tuesday night.
It’s been a long road for the Rangers to get to this point. After a slow 10-9-4 start to the season, New York has recorded the third most wins, points, and powerplay percentage since December 5th. The level of talent brought in at the deadline with Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane has turned the Rangers’ offense from good, into an absolute juggernaut.
“I think our team’s played really well with them. I think both of them would like to be more involved with their offense. I know they are both going to be there, they’ve been great and our team is a lot better with them on our team,” head coach Gerard Gallant spoke of the deadline acquisitions.
Even with the additions of Kane and Tarasenko, New York’s main goal is to play their best when they are heading into the playoffs. Securing home ice advantage has become the number one goal for the team, and some of their new players as well.
“MSG is an amazing place to play. I think it’s a big advantage to have home ice so we have that in front of us now if we do what we need to do,” Kane explained.
It comes down to the simple question – while the Rangers have shown they can win on the road in the postseason, would they rather have a home game for a potential Game 7, or travel out again to a hostile environment?
Kane and the other leaders on the team understand that difference – but it will all come down to Thursday night to see if they can secure that major advantage over a division rival.