Approaching Stanley Cup Playoffs send tristate fans into frenzy

After hard-fought campaigns that included injuries, illness, trades and a new arena atmosphere, the Devils, Rangers and Islanders clinched spots in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in the same year since the ’06-’07 season. 

Disregarding the fact that the team out on Long Island wasn’t in a playoff spot until the final few games of the season, the playoff series we have upon us are a sight to see. And it wouldn’t be so exciting if we didn’t have two of these teams going against each other in the first round. 

That’s right. The New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers are set to write another chapter in the storied history of their intense, high-spirited rivalry with a slate of at least four games that will see anything and everything. 

The Devils are playing their first home playoff game since 2017 this week, and the “Rock” (as Jersey fans call it) should be loud and, for lack of a better word, perfect for a hockey game. 

The Metropolitan Division’s second and third place teams are evenly balanced but in different ways.

Jersey’s got speed, with Jack Hughes, Timo Meier, Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier terrorizing defensemen along the wings and in the neutral zone. And speaking of defensemen, Dougie Hamilton — who now holds the Devils’ single-season record for points by a defenseman, Jonas Siegenthaler and newcomer Luke Hughes will round up the physical and skillful side of the defense core. 

Slap on Czech “tendy” Vitek Vanecek, who had 33 wins and a .911 save percentage between the pipes, and you got yourself a fun-to-watch team. 

Across the Hudson, however, there’s no shortage of starpower. 

With the two first lines of Lady Liberty’s lineup consisting of Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin-Vincent Trocheck-Vladimir Tarasenko, the playoff experience and horrifying abilities to snipe the tiniest of gaps is present. With that also comes the flashiness of the defense core. Reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox and K’andre Miller like having the puck on their sticks. Dancing. Swaying. But, the physicality comes from Jacob Trouba, who could be the deciding factor in who takes the series. 

New York Rangers captain Jacob Trouba will play a key role in the team’s first round series. Photo courtesy of MTA of New York, Wikipedia

With top-three goaltender and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin (37 W, .916 SV%) manning the “6×4,” Jersey has their work cut out for them. 

All in all, we have a nailbiter of a series ahead on TBS and the MSG networks.

You can’t say the same about Islanders-Hurricanes. Carolina dominated this year, clinching the Metro and winning 52 games (which was the same amount as N.J., but Carolina had more overtime points). 

Coach Rod Brind’Amour’s system is built for a team full of depth, and the Hurricanes have all of it. Speed, physicality, skill, chemistry. You name it, they have it, which is why aside from Boston, Carolina is an Eastern Conference favorite. 

But the Islanders are a team that backs down to no one. Without best player Mathew Barzal, Long Island’s team, who is playing its first-ever playoff game at their new UBS Arena this week, scratched and clawed, capturing the first Wild Card spot in the East with four games left, and never let go. 

It’s guys like Anders Lee, Bo Horvat (acquired in trade from Vancouver) and Brock Nelson that have held their lines together. And yes, that comes without noting the fourth line of Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck, who feel like they’ve been playing together forever and hold 90% of the Islanders’ physicality factor. 

The defense is decent, to say the least. Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock are the team’s top pair, but other than them, there’s plenty of inexperience for Carolina to expose. 

But it’s another Russian goaltender, arguably better than the one already mentioned, that can steal the series for New York. 

With 31 wins and a whopping .924 SV%, Ilya Sorokin could flip the series upside down. His rebound control is world class, positioning is fundamentally sound and flexibility is second to none. If the Islanders want any chance of beating Carolina in this series, Sorokin will have to stop 35-40 shots a night. 

A bloody, beaten and scarred battle between old foes and a redemption tour from an unfavored, but scrappy, pestering squad awaits. N.Y. and N.J. hockey fans rejoice!

Featured photo courtesy of @NYIslanders, Twitter