The Devils-Rangers Rivalry
The New York Rangers met their New Jersey neighbors for first time in a regular season game on October 8, 1982 (a 3-2 Devils win, the first victory in the franchise's new incarnation). For the first five seasons after the Devils relocated from Colorado, they were doormats. But in 1988, they made the playoffs for the first time and their rivalry with the hallowed Rangers really began to heat up. Here's a look at some of the most memorable moments. (As of the 2012 postseason, the Rangers held a 101-84-27-6 advantage in their all-time regular season series and a 4-1 edge in playoff series meetings.)
The Devils made the playoffs for the first time -- at the Rangers' expense --by knocking New York out of a berth on the final day of the regular season when John MacLean's overtime goal beat the Chicago Blackhawks. It was the first time in 10 years that the Rangers had failed to qualify for the postseason. The Devils went on to upset their other area rival, the New York Islanders, in the first round and reach the Eastern Conference Final, where they fell to Boston in seven games.
The first playoff meeting between the teams went the distance. The Presidents' Trophy-winning Rangers emerged victorious, but Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said the seeds of his deep, ongoing dislike of the Blueshirts were planted. "We had big brawls and everything," Brodeur recalled to NJ.com. "Mike Richter and (John) Vanbiesbrouck were there [playing goal] with the Rangers. I was on the bench and in the locker room. I got to hate the Rangers early on."
This epic seven-game series featured Mark Messier's guarantee of a series-tying victory by the Rangers in Game 6 (he scored a natural hat-trick in the third period) and the Game 7 goal scored by New York's Stephane Matteau that haunted Martin Brodeur for years. The Rangers went on to top the Vancouver Canucks in seven games and claim their first Stanley Cup Championship since 1940, ending an NHL-record 54-year championship drought.
The Devils won their first Stanley Cup after a lockout-shortened 1994-95 season in which they took three of their four meetings with the defending champion Rangers, who fell to Philadelphia in the second round. New Jersey's Cup marked the beginning of a decade-plus in which the Devils would remain consistent contenders while the Rangers endured dry spells that included a seven-year stretch (1998 through 2004) without a playoff berth.
After losing the opener, the Rangers shocked the Devils by eliminating them in five games. A notable member of that New York squad was Wayne Gretzky, who had famously called the Devils a "Mickey Mouse" organization after his Edmonton Oilers had routed them in a November 1983 game by the score of 13-4.
From 1997 through 2001, the Devils had an unbeaten streak of 23 regular season games against the Rangers. During that time, the Devils went undefeated against their rivals in a season series for the first time (4-0 with two ties in 1997-98) and won their second Stanley Cup, in June 2000. The following season, they lost in the final to Colorado, but captured their third in 2003, with current Ranger Mike Rupp scoring the Cup-winning goal.
Making deals with former Devils hasn't always worked well for the Rangers. In 2002, New York gave center Bobby Holik a five-year, $45 million contract and had to buy out his final three seasons. In 2007, they handed center Scott Gomez a seven-year, $51.5 million deal. His appearance in blue during the teams' meeting in the first round of the 2008 playoffs drew loud boos from the Devils' home crowds. Gomez was such a bust as a Ranger that he was offloaded to Montreal in a June 2009 trade that yielded some consolation: current defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
The Devils' first playoff series victory over the Rangers was a four-game sweep after a dramatic ascension in the regular season standings that saw New Jersey rise from the wrong side of the playoff bubble to the top of the Atlantic on the final day of the regular season and finish one point ahead of the Rangers for the division title.
As of the 2012 postseason, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist held a dominating 23-7-5 record against Martin Brodeur, who has struggled against the Rangers since the Devils' first round playoff exit at their hands in 2008. In a March 2008 Sports Illustrated story about the New York area's star goaltenders, Brodeur made it clear that he was not particularly impressed by his Ranger rival. "The way he plays the game is not something I like too much," Brodeur told SI's Michael Farber. "Lundqvist is weird."
Rangers superpest Sean Avery and Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur turned a growing mutual dislike into their own outright rivalry. During a Rangers power play in Game 3, Avery parked himself in front of the Devils' net and attempted to screen Brodeur by flailing his arms and stick in front of the goalie's face. The NHL quickly enacted the "Avery Rule" outlawing his "chicken dance" tactic. After the Rangers ousted the Devils in six, Brodeur snubbed his antagonist in the handshake line. "Well, everyone talks about how classy or un-classy I am," Avery told reporters after the game, "and fatso there just forgot to shake my hand I guess..."
The season series had been notable for its fights at the start of games and tensions erupted yet again in the final regular-season meeting between the Atlantic Division rivals on March 19, 2012. Devils coach Pete DeBoer put enforcers Cam Janssen, Eric Boulton and Ryan Carter in his starting lineup, and the Rangers' John Tortorella countered with Brandon Prust, Mike Rupp and Stu Bickel. Naturally, a line brawl ensued and it was followed by a war of words between the coaches in which Tortorella tartly advised DeBoer to "shut up."
The bitter rivals unexpectedly met after New Jersey ousted Florida and upset Philadelphia, battling through an increasingly contentious series. By Game 3, elbows (New York's Brandon Prust was suspended for throwing one at Anton Volchenkov's head), picks (the Rangers complained that the Devils were getting away with interference) and words (John Tortorella charged the Devils with diving and headhunting, and engaged in a screaming match with Peter DeBoer during Game 4) were flying.