Sean Avery 2

A Rivalry Renewed

The more things change the more they stay the same. Tonight’s match-up between the Rangers and Devils marks the start of the 27th season series between the two teams. From the very first year in 1982-83, when the teams split the season 3-3-1, this has been a case of five star dining versus meat and potatoes.

As anyone who’s watched the two teams over the past three decades knows, it’s been the team first concept that New Jersey has promoted that has lead to three Stanley Cup rings and a playoff streak that dates back to 1996-97, a span of twelve seasons.

Overall the Devils, have won 13 of the 26 seasons played to date, with the Rangers holding the advantage in 9, and 4 seasons ending in a tie. Seven of those Devils wins came in consecutive seasons from 1997-98 through to 2003-04, but since the lockout it’s been a more even affair.

In the four series played since 2005-06, the Rangers and Devils have each won a season series and tied two. Over that same period the Blueshirts hold a 17-13 win advantage in the regular season.

A large part of that success can be drawn directly from the Devils’ own playbook. The modern father of the Devils has to be Jacques Lemaire, who epitmized the late 90s with a crushing defensive style that garnered much success for the men from The Swamp, but also forced the league to change several rules in an attempt to counteract a swing to the defensive side of the game.

Tom Renney took a look at his roster coming out of the lockout, and immediately went to work crafting his own version of Lemaire’s trap. A hard forecheck, pressure in the neutral zone, but a defense first mentality that kept the blueliners on the blueline.

Certainly Henrik Lundqvist and Jaromir Jagr deserve credit as well. Jagr initially gave the Rangers the offensive firepower they needed to take advantage of the few chances they’d generate, and Lundqvist came in to steady what had been a weak position since Mike Richter had left.

Since breaking into the NHL (against the Devils no-less), Lundqvist has built up an impressive 15-6-1 record, a .935 Save Percentage and a paltry 1.80 GAA against Martin Brodeur (Scott Clemmensen last season) and the Devils.

Still this is far from a one-sided affair. After being beaten 7-1 in his first season as coach, Brent Sutter bounced back with a 3-3 season series last year. Even though Martin Brodeur missed a good part of the year with the first major injury of his career.

While Sutter won’t be back this year, his replacement is very familiar with how things are done West of the Hudson. Jacques Lemaire’s return to New Jersey will not necessarily mean a return to the 1990s, but it will likely mean the Rangers will likely find it just that much harder to get a puck by Brodeur.

Lemaire has spent the better part of the last decade coaching the Minnesota Wild, a team that has a slight 3-2 advantage over the Rangers in their last five meetings (Rangers lead all time match-up 7-3).

Tortorella too has experienced this rivalry before. Back in 1999-00, he was an assistant as the Rangers went 0-3-2, though he did win the one remaining match last year 3-0 to tie last season’s series.

As for the players, both Brodeur and Lundqvist are well equated with the rivalry, as are long timers like Michal Rozsival and Patrik Elias (IR) on their respective teams. For veterans like Marian GaborikVaclav Prospal and Rob Niedermayer it’ll be a chance to experience the heated rivalry for the first time.

One player has even experienced it from both sides. Former Ranger Mike Mottau suited up for the March 31st 4-3 win over the Devils back in 2001, and has established himself as a regular in the Devils line-up over the past couple of seasons.

But let’s put all that aside for a moment. What this rivalry really comes down is the fans. It’s those games in New Jersey where half the crowd is chanting Let’s Go Devils, only to be drowned out by a counter Let’s Go Rangers chant. It’s the difference between parading down the avenues of Manhattan and a parking lot in New Jersey.

It’s about the Stanley Cups the Devils won, and the playoff dominance that the Rangers have had over their division rivals. It’s about watching Sean Avery do everything humanly possibly to get under the skin of Brodeur, whether that be falling on him, mouthing off or simply waving his stick in front of him.

It’s about borderline hits, about John Maclean breaking Niklas Sundstrom‘s arm in the playoffs. Former Devils who failed as Rangers and vice versa.

Most of all it’s about winning each and every game.

Tonight we start another season, tonight it’s Rangers vs. Devils.

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