It’s time for the playoffs. At the beginning of the year, we are all waiting for this time of the year. This is where the best teams in the NHL will go toe to toe as 16 of the league’s best fight for the Holy Grail of ice hockey, the Stanley Cup. For the New York Rangers, their quest for the mug starts at the Prudential Center as the series will be between the New Jersey Devils and the Blueshirts themselves.
These two teams are very strong. Both loaded up at the deadline and they kind of have opposite looming questions. For New York, it’s a question of whether or not the offense can keep up with the production of the Devils. For the Devils, their question is if their netminding can stay up to the speed of someone with the quality of Igor Shesterkin. This is going to be a brutal series between the two Metropolitan area rivals.
If you were living under a rock at the trade deadline or are new to this sport, the Rangers decided to join the arms race early. They picked up Vladimir Tarasenko not long after Bo Horvat became an Islander. Patrick Kane and Tyler Motte would also be added to this Blueshirts roster before the deadline. They join the likes of Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, and Vincent Trocheck.
For the Devils, they got a long-term big fish. Timo Meier was their aim and he was well and truly achieved. He bolsters a core that already has Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Tomas Tatar, Ondrej Palat, Miles Wood, Yegor Sharangovich, and Dawson Mercer. Both teams have solid forward cores and are capable of scoring almost at will. Both teams have an immense offensive presence as the old vets meet the new kids.
If you’re comparing them, you can justifiably give the nod either way. New Jersey has this ability to score in bunches and that is terrifying, but Filip Chytil is the Rangers’ 3rd line center and that just feels unfair on a daily basis. Add in that fourth line of Motte, Goodrow, and Vesey and I really like the Rangers in this comparison. I won’t say they’re better, but I am not convinced that they are worse.
Oh boy, where do you start? Both teams are able to ice some of the most dominant backends in the sport. Both teams have capable shutdown guys, point producers, puck movers, and everything in between. There’s so much to like on both back ends. You can appreciate the strength of the puck moving on New Jersey, but New York has that physicality on its back end and that just could be different.
Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, K’Andre Miller, Jacob Trouba, Braden Schneider, and Niko Mikkola is an insanely strong blueline. There are very few teams that could ice something as competitive as that across all three pairs. There’s nothing that the Rangers’ back end cannot do. Trouba and Mikkola can smash teams into next year. Fox can score for fun. Lindgren’s name alone causes delays at JFK because he’s so good at shutting things down. Miller and Schneider’s youth too.
For the Devils, it’s the same. Jonas Siegenthaller, Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Graves, Damon Severson, John Marino, and Brendan Smith is a solid backend. This doesn’t mention that the Devils just signed Luke Hughes to his entry-level contract and now have him as an option too. It’s a strong back end and it can move the puck just as well as the Rangers’ back end. It can be tested in its own zone, but it is strong.
In a Devils-Rangers series, you have to feel this is going to come down to the goaltending battle. Both teams have had some inconsistent goaltending during this season. Both teams will need their starter to be at their best if they are going to make a deep run and win this series. This goaltending match-up could be where the series is decided and it could go either way. It’s entirely in the hands of the shot-stoppers.
Igor Shesterkin has been so up and down. Igor at his best is still capable of beating anyone in this league. There’s a reason he put up the best season in NHL history by a netminder last season. However, he has gotten into his own head at times and it has seen an impact on his stats. He’s not been a Vezina-caliber goalie and the Rangers will need Igor to heat up if they want to win this series.
New Jersey has Vitek Vanecek. If I had told you he would have been the starter on the 3rd best team in the NHL this season, you would have wanted me put into a mental asylum but he has proven himself to be capable. Vanecek has never had this kind of experience though and starting against a team like New York is a different beast. Can he best Shesterkin to decide this series?
All we know is that this series is going to be must-watch entertainment. Both teams can score at will. Both teams have incredible talents on display and star power out of the wazoo. We’re all hoping that the Blueshirts get their first four wins en route to lifting the cup for the fifth time in franchise history, but that is not going to be easy.