It’s been over a decade since the Rangers and Devils have met in the playoffs, but for Rangers fans, the sting of the latest matchup remains the same.
The last time these two teams met, the Rangers were the top team in the Eastern Conference. They had the pieces to go all the way – from the forwards to the defense to the goaltending – this could have been the year they won their first cup since 1994. But, the Devils ended those hopes with one of the most iconic goals in recent memory.
I remember being at that game at the Prudential Center. I was nine years old at the time, my love for the Rangers still growing, and to this day, I remember the game and Adam Henrique’s goal as clear as day.
The Rangers entered the Prudential Center down 3-2 and needed a win to send it back to Madison Square Garden for Game Seven. They came back from down 2-0 to make the score 2-2 by the end of the second, and it felt like the Rangers were going to win this game. They had the better of the chances in the third, but Martin Brodeur did what made him the best goaltender ever: stood on his head.
I remember the tense waiting between the third period and overtime. Though I was only nine, I had that feeling of anxiety. While the Rangers had some momentum, anything could happen.
Then, a minute into overtime, it happened.
“Carefully played away by Lundqvist, now Ponikarovsky with it. Threw one in front and blocked there! Scramble for it there, they poke away at it! Still, it’s loose! Poked at by Kovalchuk! THEY SCORE! HENRIQUE! IT’S OVER!”
What happened after was a mad scramble. I wanted to cry but couldn’t; my dad rushed me out of the arena as the goal horns blared, making sure that we wouldn’t see the Devils celebrate their first cup appearance since 2003. I remember him holding my hand as I wanted to sit down and all I could hear was “Hey! You suck!” coming from New Jersey fans. I remember leaving the arena, and though my dad had to keep a straight face to keep me calm, I knew he was hurting inside.
That night still haunts me to this day, and it for sure haunts a lot of Rangers fans.
As I said earlier, the Rangers had the pieces to go all the way that year, and going into the Eastern Conference Finals, most thought they would get to the Stanley Cup. Though they made it two years later, some could argue this was their best chance to lift it: the Los Angeles Kings of 2014 was much better than the Kings of 2012, and we all know how 2014 went.
Now, over a decade since this moment, the Rangers and Devils meet again. Since 2012, there’s no doubt the Rangers have been more successful than the Devils, but this moment still looms. All Rangers fans remember where they were when it happened and all hope for a Cup was extinguished.
There are a lot of similarities between that year’s New York team and this year’s: the elite goaltending, offensive firepower, and sometimes defensively stout with few lapses. This Rangers team has the chance to exorcise demons that haunt many.
Right now, as much as I hate to say it, the Devils have the upper hand in Rangers-Devils postseason history because of that goal. New York gets its first shot at New Jersey in the playoffs since this moment and can make many forget that it happened for a little bit.
The first shot of revenge starts Tuesday night.