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Devils vs. Rangers: 18 Years In The Making

It has been 18 years since the two Hudson River rivals met with a trip to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup on the line, but the Devils and Rangers add a new chapter, beginning tonight, to a heated feud that really launched in 1994 with the same stakes.

New Jersey Devils
Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

The epic 1994 Eastern Conference Finals certainly does not feel like it was 18 years ago already, reminding that time really does fly.

At that point, the New Jersey Devils had no Stanley Cup trophies in the case, and the Rangers were in the midst of a 54-year Cup drought. So when the two rivals squared off with a trip to the Finals on the line, it brought out one of the best playoff series that you will ever witness, in any sport.

That Ranger team had the star power of players, such as Mark Messier and Brian Leetch, while the Devils were more of a scrappy bunch, with a hotshot rookie goaltender named Martin Brodeur.

The series was as tight as you could possibly imagine, as it went the full 7 games with three games going to double-overtime. With all the well-known players on the Rangers roster, the biggest hero was Stephane Matteau, who had two game-winning goals. Matteau’s most memorable hockey achievement, which etched him into New York sports lore forever, was netting the game winner in double overtime of Game 7 past Brodeur. The win catapulted the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they beat the Canucks to end their title drought.

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Devils/Flyers Eastern Conference Final Schedule
Subject to change without notice
* if necessary
Game 1: Monday, May 14 8 pm at Rangers
Game 2: Wednesday, May 16 8 pm at Rangers
Game 3: Saturday, May 19 1 pm at Devils
Game 4:  Monday, May 21 8 pm at Devils
*Game 5: Wednesday, May 23 8 pm at Rangers
*Game 6: Friday, May 25 8 pm at Devils
*Game 7: Sunday, May 27 8 pm at Rangers

While the Rangers got the best of the Devils in that epic 7-gamer, it’s New Jersey that has had the most consistent success in that 18 year span. The Devils have won three Stanley Cups in that time frame, while the Rangers have made just one Conference Finals appearance, losing to the Flyers in 1997.

Despite the Devils successes, they are still looked at as the “little brother” to the Rangers, with a much smaller fan-base that often fails to register with New Jerseyans.

The Devils have not had that defining moment since moving into Newark’s Prudential Center in 2007. The arena is an absolute gem, an immense upgrade from the previous digs in East Rutherford. However, while the Devils have run a pretty model sports franchise over the past 2 decades, they have struggled to gain the same traction that area powers, New York and Philadelphia, have at the box office.

This series could provide the remedy for that problem, as this is the type of series that transcends the die-hard hockey fan, and crosses into that pop-culture realm of being water-cooler conversation.

The drama of 1994 will be extremely tough to match, but the intensity should be right on par between these two hated area teams.

New Jersey had their back against the walls in the first round against Florida, requiring 7 games and overtime heroics to move on, before they easily discarded of the heavily-favored Flyers in 5 games in Round 2. The team was clearly playing its best hockey against Philly in front of the now 40 year old Marty Brodeur. New Jersey’s biggest question is whether they will show some rust because of 5 days off before tonight’s game.

New York Rangers
Paul Bereswill, Getty Images

The Rangers’ road has been one that required max effort in the first 2 rounds. Despite being the #1 seed, New York has been taken to the brink of elimination by Ottawa in Round 1, and once again, in the Second Round by Washington, in a very competitive series. New York, a newer look Rangers team built on defense, toughness and brilliant goal-tending, grinded through those 2 rounds, punching their ticket for a date with Devils after a Saturday night win.

The stakes could not be a higher for a Conference Final that will certainly put hockey on the map for the casual fan in the area, as well as provide heaven for the die-hards.

Will New Jersey be able to exorcise the demons of 1994, and shed the “little brother” label. Or will the Rangers get back to the promised land?

The stage is set for a raucous night at MSG with puck drop set for for 8PM.

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