An NHL Rivalry Renewed

For those of you who are hockey fans this is not news, but the Devils and Rangers have renewed their rivalry in this year’s NHL playoffs and are currently in the middle of yet another classic series.

In 1994, these two teams took part in what was perhaps the greatest playoff series in hockey history. In Game 6, the Rangers trailing three games to two, Rangers captain Mark Messier famously promised victory, like Joe Namath of the Jets in 1969. Messier’s bold prediction came true, and it happened in stunning fashion, with Messier scoring a hat trick in the third period to lift the Rangers to a 4–2 victory.

In Game 7, the Devils were trailing 2–1 but forced overtime, thanks to an equalizing goal from Valeri Zelepukin with just seven seconds remaining. In the second overtime, the Rangers finally ended the landmark series with a goal from Stephane Matteau.

Today is the 18th anniversary of that unforgettable Game 6 and, as then, the Rangers find themselves behind three games to two.

A lot has changed during these 18 years. The Devils have lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup three times and now play in one of the nicest arenas in the league. All the players are different with one notable exception in New Jersey goaltender Martin Broduer, who has earned himself the reputation of being the greatest player ever at his position. At 40, he is playing phenomenal hockey.

One thing that has not changed is that these teams still hate each other, and the rivalry is probably more intense than ever. The Devils and the Rangers are separated only by roughly 14 miles, and with the New York Islanders among the perennially worst teams in the league, the Devils have become the natural rival to the Rangers in the New York metropolitan area.

There is general animosity among the fans, the players, and the coaching staffs. Rangers coach John Tortorella and Devils coach Peter DeBoer have been critical of each other all season. In Game 4 on Monday, they began shouting at each other from their respective benches after a controversial moment when Ranger forward (and former Devil) Mike Rupp shoved Brodeur and a melee ensued.

Even if you’re not a hockey fan, Game 6 tonight is well worth checking out.

— Brian Sciaretta is a soccer writer for the New York Times’ Goal Blog and Yanks Abroad

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