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Previewing the Rangers and Devils First Round Playoff Series

When the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils hit the Prudential Center ice on Tuesday night, it will mark the eighth meeting between these two teams in NHL Playoff action. The Rangers hold a 4-3 edge in their playoff history against New Jersey and there will be more pressure on Gerard Gallant’s team to win this series, because they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. The Rangers finished in third place this season right behind their arch-rivals the Devils, who in their second season under head coach Lindy Ruff, went from seventh place to second in the Metropolitan division and broke the franchise record for points in a season (112).

This first round series should excite any sports fan because it features two teams that are close geographically and two fanbases that can"t stand eachother! Unlike in many of the other NHL playoff series, both the Rangers and Devils won"t have to worry about traveling to an away game because these teams play 30 minutes from each other. This should make the games even more fast-paced and make this series an instant classic. Come along inside the Overtime Heroics team bus and learn more about the teams competing in the 2023 version of hockey"s Hudson River Rivalry.

Broadway"s Finest against the Bad Boys from Jersey

This season, the Devils put up 289 goals, just 12 more than the New York Rangers. Most of that scoring for the Devils came from their top six forward group, which includes Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, and Jesper Bratt. At the trade deadline, the Devils added a big and fast player in Timo Meier to that group at the trade deadline and he contributed 14 points to his new team during the last 20 games of the regular season.

The Rangers didn"t have a player put up 40 goals like Hughes did this season but their top two goal scorers this season were Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Kreider contributed 36 goals, a noticeable drop off from the 54 he had a year ago. Zibanejad is an elite two-way player who has excellent speed and a blistering one-time slap shot that he used to score 20 power play goals with this season. Don"t forget about ‘the breadman" Artemi Panarin, whose 27 power play assists led the team this season.

There is a lot of starpower on the first two forward lines for both teams, but the advantage that the Rangers clearly have is playoff experience. Every player on the Rangers roster has played in at least one playoff game, while many of the Devils have not. One of those players is Jack Hughes and the man known as Mr. Devil, three-time Stanley Cup champion, Ken Daneyko described how he thinks the Devils young superstar will respond.

Jack Hughes, great year. First time in the playoffs. What is that going to mean in terms of how he handles the pressure. Does he play his best at key moments in the series. The one thing I"ll say about Jack Hughes since he"s come in the league is…he wants the ball when the games on the line. I love that and I feel like your star players have to have that the mentality, so we shall see.

Former Devils stanley cup champion defenseman, Ken Daneyko

The top sixes for each team will be under the spotlight through most of this series but the bottom sixes will still be important, as well. There are plenty of gamers on that Rangers third and fourth line and its important to mention the Rangers ‘Kid Line" centered by Filip Chytil, which uses their speed and size to forecheck opposing teams relentlessly. The Devils comparable ‘Kid line" is their fourth line, which is known as the “BMW Line." Like the BMW line, the Rangers will get important minutes from their fourth line that cannot be overlooked.

Two Stacked Defenses go Head to Head

Both teams have excellent bluelines. The Ranger have a first pairing that is as physical as it gets in Jacob Trouba and K"Andre Miller. It will be interesting to see how the Rangers first forward line matches up aganst the Devils first defensive pairing and vice versa. Let"s first analyze the Devils first pairing of Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Siegenthaler. Hamilton scored 74 points which was fourth among NHL defensemen and is a huge body, while Siegenthaler is smaller but has quietly been a very solid sidekick to Hamilton. For these reasons, the Rangers first line will need to remain vigilant when Hamilton has the puck in the offensive zone.

The Devils second pairing of John Marino and Ryan Graves is almost as solid as their first pairing for a few reasons. They have balance, where Graves uses his big frame to clear front of the net while Marino is more of the puck movement guy, who covers opponents really well. Marino is a lot like Lindgren in that respect, but I still give the edge to the Rangers second pairing of Lindgren and Adam Fox, because they are both really smart hockey players who have shown time and time again that they can succeed in the playoffs.

When it comes to third pairings, I give the edge to the Rangers third pairing for two reasons; Kevin Bahl"s lack of experience and Braden Schneider. Kevin Bahl and Damon Severson play on the Devils third pairing and he is the rookie who played 42 games this season for the Devils and has not playoff experience. Schneider on the other hand was there for all of last year"s playoff run and has played great throughout his career so far. Ben Harpur is just as big as Bahl and will be just as much a deterrent around the front of the net. For these reasons, the Rangers have the edge over the Devils in this series on defense.

Will Shesterkin Stand on his Head?

The Rangers would not have advanced past the first round of last year"s playoffs if it weren"t for their goalie, Igor Shesterkin. When the Rangers were struggling, he made a great save to keep his team in the game. He even had an assist against the Penguins in the first round, last year. This season, his numbers weren"t as dominant as they were last season (when he won the Vezina) but Rangers fans were encouraged that he went 11-3 in his last 14 starts of the season.

If Shesterkin does get hurt in this series the Rangers will go to Jaroslav Halak, which would be a better backup plan than that which the Devils have. The 37-year-old Halak started the season with six straight losses, but has settled down since then and been a serviceable backup.

During the regular season, Vitek Vanecek has put up numbers very close to what Shesterkin put up, which shows that he is good, but to be a Stanley cup winning goalie, you have to hold up in the toughest circumstances. The only track record we have for Vanecek are three starts he made during the 2020 and 2021 playoffs for Washington. The results were not pretty while Shesterkin has been rock solid for the Rangers through 21 starts. It will be interesting to see how Vanecek responds to the pressure of playing against a Rangers team with a deadly power play.

Answering the Call of the Playoffs

It"s time for the Rangers to show us what they"re made of and take care of the team that they couldn"t catch during the regular season. Gerard Gallant has a roster that is worthy of winning a Stanley Cup because they have arguably the best goaltender in the league, but they can"t look past this Devils team led by the experienced NHL head coach Lindy Ruff. Ruff has played his cards right all season long and got a group of mostly young superstars to improve drastically and shock the league with their performance this season.

More of the pressure has to be on the Rangers to win this series because their goal from the beginning of the season until now has been to win the Stanley Cup. Now is their chance to prove that they are really as good as we"ve been saying they are.

Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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