June 21, 2020

Rangers Rivalry Series: Battle of the Hudson against the Devils

Matteau! Matteau! Matteau! (1994 NYR)

I sincerely hope you’re enjoying the Forever Blueshirts Rangers rivalry series. As the potential for the resumption of the 2020 NHL season and live, meaningful hockey games grow near, we will continue our stroll down memory lane and examine one of the more unique, bitter and distasteful rivalries that the National Hockey League has to offer

New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils Rivalry

You see, the franchise now known as the New Jersey Devils first entered the NHL in 1974 as the Kansas City Scouts. After two futile seasons in the Show-Me-State, the organization moved further west to the city of Denver and became the Colorado Rockies in 1976. The fortunes of this sad-sack franchise did not improve in the thin, Mile High air of Denver and after six ineffective and fruitless seasons, ownership decided to move their woebegotten squad east to New Jersey in 1982.

The Devils continued the ineptitude of the Scouts and Rockies in the embryonic years of the newest incarnation. So much so that the “Great One” Wayne Gretzky labelled the team from the Garden State as a “Mickey Mouse Organization” in November of 1983. During this time period, the Rangers were more concerned with the New York Islander dynasty than they were this bunch of has-been’s and never-will-be’s from across the Hudson River. Truth be told, and this is why the Hudson River Rivalry is so unique, the hatred, venom and vitriol got its start during a game that did not directly involve the Blueshirts.

John MacLean starts the Rivalry

Picture it, April 3rd. 1988. Chicago Stadium. the final night of the 1988 regular season in which the Rangers and New Jersey Devils were fighting for the final playoff spot in, what was then called, the Patrick Division of the Prince of Wales Conference.

A Rangers victory meant the Devils had to win to get in. The Rangers did their part, beating Quebec 3-0 at the Madison Square Garden. As for the Devils, their game in Chicago, which started an hour later due to playing in the Central Time Zone, was in overtime and a tie wouldn’t cut it. They knew the Rangers had won which meant they had to win to clinch.

Devils forward John MacLean would end up scorning one of the most famous goals in their franchise history (which became infamous in Rangerland) in overtime to secure the playoff spot for New Jersey while sending the Rangers away on an early and unexpected summer vacation. The shock-waves and reverberations of MacLean’s goal were felt all over Rangerstown. There is a photo of a bewildered and stunned Ranger team in their locker room watching the Devils celebrate their first ever playoff appearance.. At that very moment my friends, a rivalry for the ages was born.

Battle of the Hudson

Domi vs Stevens was just one of many battles between the Rangers and Devils (EBay)

1992 would bring the first ever playoff series between the two combatants. The Rangers would go on to win this thriller in seven games that is probably most known for a pier-6 bench clearing brawl following the final buzzer of game 6 in New Jersey.

1994 would bring a series cited by many as the greatest, most electrifying in NHL history. The Rangers would once again win a stupendous and unforgettable seven game series that featured the Mark Messier guarantee in game 6 and of course, “Matteau Matteau Matteau” in game 7 to send the Blueshirts to the Stanley Cup Finals.

1997, with the Devils as the favorite for the first time in this continuing playoff war, the Rangers still came out victorious thanks to a Golden Goal by Adam Graves in overtime of game 5 in the Meadowlands, on a wrap-around of all things to send the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Finals and the dumbfounded Devils were left wondering what happened.

A Rivalry Cools….for a bit

The rivalry laid dormant during the rest of the 1990s and early 2000s as the meandering, disappointing and frustrating Ranger organization failed to qualify for the post-season for an unfathomable seven consecutive seasons.

2006 saw Jaromir Jagr and a rookie goalie named Henrik Lundqvist bring the Blueshirts back to prominence and playoff hockey. However, the resurgent Rangers were dominated and swept by the Devils in their franchise’s first ever playoff series win in this rivalry.

2008, in a playoff series that is best known for the Sean Avery/Marin Brodeur soap opera, the Rangers would win in five games to advance to the next round and the Devils would, once again, fall victim in the playoffs to their hated rivals from the east.

2012, the top seeded Rangers, with the Herculean Lundqvist in goal and with their sights squarely set on reaching the Stanley Cup Finals, were derailed by Adam Henrique and the upstart Devils in overtime of game 6 to send the “Swamp Rats” off to battle the LA Kings for the Cup and, frankly, brought tears to the eyes of your’s truly.

Kaapo Kakko and Jack Hughes

Kakko and Hughes will keep the rivalry alive for years to come (Photo: Anne-Marie Sorvin, USATS)

As Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko lead their respective teams to reignite this proud and intense rivalry, one has to wonder when the next epic playoff tussle will take place as both teams continue their rebuilding process. The Rangers, admittedly, are much further along in their program than the currently hapless Devils. However, once the team clad in red, white and black gets its act together and develops their stable of young talent, the next installment of the Rangers/Devils playoff war will be on the horizon, ready to electrify hockey fans in the Tri-State area.

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