Monday marks the sixth and final meeting between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, and with less than three weeks remaining in the regular season, this one has playoff implications on the line.
By earning even one point against the Devils, the Rangers would clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs -- a far cry from the last two years, when the team's fate was decided on the last day of the regular season.
But despite the assurance of a post-season spot, the Blueshirts' position in the standings is still very much in peril.
The red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins pulled within one point of the Rangers in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division standings with their 3-2 OT loss to Philadelphia, putting New York in danger of slipping to the four-seed heading into postseason action. Plummeting to the five-seed- and losing home-ice advantage -- is more unlikely, but still conceivable. The Flyers are only three points behind the Rangers, although New York has a game in hand.
The Devils, 6-3-1 over their last 10 games, are still trying to make a push to climb from the sixth spot in the East, fourth in the Atlantic. A win over the Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden on Monday would bring the Devils within three points of the fifth-place Flyers.
The last time these two teams met, March 6, the Devils prevailed 4-1 in what was a dispiriting loss to the Rangers. Led by a dominant performance from star sniper Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils possessed a ferocity the Rangers struggled to match.
Said Rangers center Brian Boyle after the game:
"They hated us. They wanted to kill us."
Saddled with two straight losses, the Rangers will look to avenge that defeat tonight in the fifth of a seven-game homestand at MSG.