Cross-Hudson Rivalry Hits Newark

Tonight’s game at The Rock against the Devils is the third of four meetings between the rivals this season.

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The matchup will be the first at Prudential Center between the Cross-Hudson rivals and sets up to be a must-watch or for radio aficionados, a must-listen contest. The clubs have split the first two games, both played at The Garden and just two points separate the teams in the ever, ever so tight Metro Division.

The Devils have played one less game than the Rangers.

The Blueshirts have won three consecutive contests, the last being a 4-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks. Henrik Lundqvist was terrific early and, again, the stabilizing factor allowing the team in front of him to build a 60-minute hockey game. Tremendous puck movement resulted in a 3-0 lead midway through the second period, as the Rangers seemed to have the puck on a string against their more plodding opponent.

The three goals were picture-perfect when it came to execution. Although there were mistakes made in the defensive zone that earlier in the season might have resulted in disaster, there was not a great sense of panic and as a result, there was very little chasing mistakes in the Ranger end of the ice. Pinpoint offensive execution, confident defending and Grade-A goaltending will take any team a long, long way.

The Devils continue to be one of the best stories in the NHL as we near the half-way point. Outside the most die-hard supporters and perhaps GM Ray Shero and his staff, no one could have predicted that this group would be where they are in the standings at this point in the season. That being said, they absolutely warrant the lofty position.

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The Devils are getting tremendous play from their youth led by Nico Hischier. Netminder Corey Schneider has had a bounce-back season. An under-appreciated blue line has been bolstered by the acquisition veteran Sami Vatanen. Coach John Hynes has them playing a fast, relentless style. Moving forward, the key for New Jersey will be whether the youth can continue to drive the process and make the difference as the NHL regular season heads into it’s grinding second half.

KEYS

1. On the Toes

The Devils employ a very quick, skilled and hounding style that will force the Rangers to play on their toes. New Jersey is relentless with and without the puck, so it is imperative to recognize that no play is over until it is over against tonight’s opponent.

2. North-South Game

Given the aforementioned New Jersey style, it is imperative that the puck moves in a North-South direction. Nothing good ever happens from a “hanging curveball” and the same can be said for putting the puck into the middle of the ice, particularly in the defensive and neutral zone against these Devils.

3. Emotion

When the NHL schedule was announced last July, I am certain that no one could have predicted the emotion that would surround this game: Two franchises with a deep history of competition playing very well and fighting for points in the most competitive division in the league. It doesn’t get any more emotional than that and managing the emotion in a productive manner may very well be the ultimate key.

This one should be fun.

[Watch Rangers-Devils on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]