The New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers handled their initial games after clinching a playoff berth in significantly different ways
Because of those dramatically different results, the race for second place in the Metropolitan Division and home ice in the first round of a possible playoff series between the rivals is even closer heading into the final meeting Thursday night in Newark, N.J.
New Jersey (46-20-8, 100 points) holds a two-point lead over the Rangers (44-20-10, 98 points) partially because it is 2-0-1 in the season series
The Devils earned a 5-3 win in New York on Nov. 28 and the Rangers posted a 4-3 overtime victory on home ice Dec. 12. New Jersey recorded a 4-3 overtime win on Jan. 7 when it erased a two-goal deficit and Damon Severson scored the game-winner to stop an eight-game home losing streak
The Devils clinched their first playoff spot since 2018 with a 5-3 win over the visiting Ottawa Senators on Saturday. Two nights later, New Jersey was handed its most lopsided loss of the season when it allowed four straight goals following a short-handed tally by Erik Haula in a 5-1 loss to the host New York Islanders
"I think that we clinched a spot (last game), and I don't know if our group dealt with that," Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's a learning experience. You're excited about where you got to, but you've got to put it away in a hurry and I didn't think we put it away in a hurry.
Since a 3-0 home win over the first-place Carolina Hurricanes on March 12, the Devils are 2-4-2 over their past eight contests, a stretch where they have allowed four goals five times. New Jersey also was held to one goal for the ninth time Monday and third time since its win over Carolina
The Rangers were seven points behind the Devils following a 4-1 loss at Boston on March 4 in their second game with Patrick Kane. Since then New York is 9-1-1 over its past 11 games with the past seven wins coming in regulation to give both teams 34 regulation victories
New York has scored 34 goals over its past seven victories, including Tuesday's 6-2 home win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Filip Chytil, Vladimir Tarasenko and Kane scored in a span of 3:37 in the first period and the Rangers scored the final three goals to pull away from the NHL's worst team after allowing two goals in the final half of the opening period
"Listen MSG is an amazing place to play. I think it's a big advantage to have home ice," Kane said after he and Tarasenko scored in the same game for the first time. "We have that in front of us now if we do what we need to do. It'll be a big game coming up."
Also in front of both teams but not so far away are the Hurricanes, who are three points ahead of New Jersey and five ahead of New York. Carolina has nine games remaining and 35 regulation victories.
"Thursday should be a lot of fun," New York coach Gerard Gallant said. "Two teams battling, and I think we're two points behind them. There's still seven or eight games left, but it goes a long way Thursday night."
--Field Level Media