Why Thursday’s Rangers-Devils is the biggest game of the season

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - JANUARY 07: The New Jersey Devils celebrate a 4-3 overtime victory against Igor Shesterkin #31 and the New York Rangers at the Prudential Center on January 07, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images )
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - JANUARY 07: The New Jersey Devils celebrate a 4-3 overtime victory against Igor Shesterkin #31 and the New York Rangers at the Prudential Center on January 07, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images ) /
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On Monday night, the New York Rangers clinched a playoff spot for the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the losses of the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres. But, the biggest result of the night was the New Jersey Devils losing to the New York Islanders, putting the Rangers within striking distance of a second place in the Metropolitan Division.

This makes Thursday’s tie-up with the Devils at the Prudential Center one of the biggest of the season. Here’s what to look out for.

First, after Tuesday’s win combined with the Carolina Hurricanes’ loss, the Rangers are now second in the league in goal differential at +53, with the Boston Bruins being first. Additionally, New York is fourth in the league in goals against due to the efforts of Igor Shesterkin and Jaroslav Halak.

Starting with the goalie matchup, it’s assumed to be Igor Shesterkin vs Vitek Vanecek on Thursday night, and these goalies have had different Marches. Recently, Shesterkin has been on the top of his game; he is 8-2-0 in March with a save percentage of .931 and a GAA of 2.08. On the other hand, Vanecek is 4-4-0 with a save percentage of .892 and a GAA of 3.06. While these goalies have been on different trajectories as of late, anything can happen with two high-flying offenses.

New Jersey is centered around Jack Hughes, of course. Hughes is ninth in the league with 40 goals, and he is second on the team in assists with 46. On the back end, the Devils feature Dougie Hamilton, who is having the best statistical season of his career with 68 points, leading the way.

What makes this matchup interesting in part is both teams will feature their new toys. Just like the Rangers, who added Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, Tyler Motte, and Niko Mikkola, the Devils made one of the biggest moves of the deadline bringing in Timo Meier. So far, in 13 games, Meier has four goals and two assists; though this is not the best start, he adds a huge threat to a New Jersey offense that is one of the best in the league.

The Rangers’ new acquisitions are centered around Kane and Tarasenko, who have a combined 24 points since joining New York (Tarasenko has 15 and Kane has nine). Obviously, they will be key if the Rangers want to make a deep playoff run.

Besides these new acquisitions, Rangers-Devils will have similar faces: Zibanejad, Panarin, Hughes, Hischier, Fox, Hamilton, and names you all know.

This brings us to the most important thing on Thursday: home ice.

In December, there was a small chance the Rangers could catch the Devils. The Rangers were a few games above .500, while the Devils started the season as the hottest team in the NHL. After the Rangers beat the Devils in overtime on December 12, it has been a game of catchup for New York. Now, if the Rangers win on Thursday, they will be second in the division.

A win on Thursday makes the end of the season so much more crucial. Not only will the Rangers be battling the Devils for positioning, but they can also maybe catch up to Carolina for first place in the Division. A loss would make it very hard for New York to catch either team.

Tomorrow is a huge matchup, and the result will give the Rangers a clearer path as it goes down the stretch.