NHL Playoffs: 10 Most Memorable Moments in Rangers-Devils Playoff History
The border battle between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils is set for its fifth playoff series in a span of 18 seasons and its second such arrangement with the Prince of Wales Trophy on the line.
This is the farthest the Rangers have advanced in the Stanley Cup playoffs since they disposed of the Devils in the 1997 Eastern Conference semifinals. They have not been to the Cup final since they squeaked past New Jersey in 1994 en route to the championship.
In the other locker room, the Jersey boys are raring to host a postseason edition of this rivalry in a new building, but with a seasoned, three-time champion face still tending the crease.
Goaltender Martin Brodeur is the only player who has seen action in each of the first four Devils-Rangers playoff bouts and a triumphant outcome in 2012 could convince him to retire while at the summit of success.
Brodeur, 25-year Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello and a horde of rooters from each sector of the New York City metropolitan area have all lived through the following 10 moments spanning from 1994 to 2008.
And now, starting Monday night at Madison Square Garden, the rivalry shall be re-released for a new generation.
10. Seinfeld’s “Face Painter” Episode
No joke, this gets a mention simply because hockey always deserves a standing ovation any time it garners prominent placement in American pop culture.
A year after the rivalry’s first postseason installment in 1994, one of the decade's most influential sitcoms decided to center the top plot of one of its episodes on a Devils fan crossing the river and unapologetically "supporting the team" in Rangers territory.
If that doesn't speak to the rivalry's impact, what does?
9. Adam Graves’ Series-Clincher
There have been a few more momentous overtime bouts in this rivalry. Oh, yes.
But consider the fact that, in 1997, the Devils finished atop the Eastern Conference with 104 points, 18 more than their second-round adversary from Manhattan.
Based on that, this second postseason installment of the Hudson River Rivalry ought to have been less competitive than its 1994 predecessor.
To an extent, it was, except the upstart Rangers prevailed in five games with Graves giving the dagger in Game 5 at the Meadowlands.
8. Avery vs. Brodeur: Part I
After tallying the winner in Game 2 to help the Rangers raise a 2-0 upper hand on enemy ice, the ever-polarizing Sean Avery pulled an unprecedented stunt in Game 3 of the 2008 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
During a 5-on-3 segment in the second period, Avery parked himself on the porch of Brodeur and issued a screen by waving his stick in front of him.
The tactic did not amount to much during that buzz through the zone, although after the Devils cleared and the Rangers regrouped, Avery would insert his third goal in as many games. The setup man was none other than Scott Gomez, a Devils-to-Rangers convert the previous summer.
7. Avery vs. Brodeur: Part II
The Devils mustered a 4-3 overtime victory in spite of Avery's distraction, giving them new life in the 2008 first-round series. But after the Rangers rebounded to polish off New Jersey in five games, neither Avery nor Brodeur refused the other party during the handshake line.
6. Stephane Richer’s Double-Overtime Goal
The Devils and Rangers have been to overtime in five of their 21 postseason tilts, including the very first in Game 1 of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals at Madison Square Garden.
An easily forgotten fact about this series was that New Jersey had failed to win a single regular-season meeting with the Rangers in 1993-94. But any notion of that disproportionate success translating to the playoffs was promptly hushed when the visiting Devils drew a 3-3 knot late in regulation, and Richer followed up with the game-winner in double overtime.
5. Stephane Matteau’s (1st) Double-Overtime Goal
Two nights after pulling even in the 1994 conference finals, the Rangers returned the Devils' favor from Game 1, claiming a double-overtime victory on enemy ice and usurping the upper hand in Game 3.
4. Patrik Elias’ 6-Point Night
When the rivalry was renewed for the third time in a playoff setting in 2006, Elias set a 10.0 magnitude tone for the Devils' first series victory over the Rangers. He had a hand in all six New Jersey strikes as his team torched opposing rookie goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in his Stanley Cup playoff debut, 6-1.
New Jersey ultimately outscored the Blueshirts by an aggregate tally of 17-4 in a sweep, its only victory in the teams' four playoff encounters to date. Elias finished the series with five goals and six assists.
3. John Madden’s Hat Trick
Elias failed to pen his name to the score sheet in only one of the four first-round games in 2006. But Madden filled the void suitably enough in Game 2, sandwiching Brian Gionta's power-play goal with a pair of short-handed tallies, and then finalizing the 4-1 victory with an even-strength strike in the third period.
Jay Pandolfo assisted on each of Madden's goals for a playmaker hat trick.
2. Stephane Matteau’s Series-Clincher
Play-by-play announcer Howie Rose's call is enough all on its own to bring this moment to the upper echelon of this list, but the self-explanatory impact of the goal itself is equally potent.
Going on 54 years without a Stanley Cup and 15 years without a berth in the finals, the regular-season champion Rangers nearly had the 1994 Eastern Conference crown in the bag when Devils forward Valeri Zelepukin drew a 1-1 knot in the dying seconds of regulation.
The first resultant overtime period amounted to nothing except nearly an hour of apprehension for the home masses at Madison Square Garden. But at 4:24 of the fifth period, Matteau would liberate the fanbase.
1. The Guarantee
As momentous as Matteau's Game 7, sudden-death strike was, it never would have been possible if not for captain Mark Messier's heroics two nights prior.
With the Rangers facing elimination in Game 6, Messier made a pregame pledge for victory. After the host Devils nabbed an initial 2-0 lead, the Rangers captain followed through with an assist on his team's icebreaker before the second intermission, and then single-handedly usurped the lead with a pair of goals.
Messier completed the natural hat trick and cemented the pivotal 4-2 victory with a long-distance empty-netter, stimulating the blue-shirted portion of a bipartisan Brendan Byrne Arena.