This spring marks the 25th anniversary of one of the greatest non-Stanley Cup Finals playoff series in history -- the New York Rangers' epic seven-game Eastern Conference finals win over the New Jersey Devils. The Rangers, on their way to their first championship since 1940 that season, trailed three games to two before winning Game 6 when Mark Messier backed up his victory guarantee with a natural third-period hat trick and winning Game 7 on Stephane Matteau's goal in the second overtime.
The tri-state rivals will not commemorate the anniversary with a similarly high-stakes meeting this spring. Instead, the Rangers and Devils will each be looking to take solace in playing out the string in inspired fashion Monday night, when they complete their season series as New Jersey hosts New York in Newark.
The Rangers will be completing a back-to-back set after earning a 3-0 win over the host Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday afternoon. The Devils last played Saturday night, when they fell to the visiting St. Louis Blues 3-2 in overtime.
With the win, the seventh-place Rangers (31-34-13, 75 points) locked up a last-place finish in the Metropolitan Division for the Devils (29-40-10, 68 points) -- the most points New Jersey can finish with is 74, one fewer than New York's current total.
The victory also created the first winning streak in more than two months for the Rangers, who hadn't won consecutive games since heading into the All-Star break with three straight victories from Jan. 15-19.
The Rangers have scored seven unanswered goals since falling behind the Blues 2-0 in the first period Friday. Such a surge has provided a bit of relief and redemption to New York, which absorbed five three-goal defeats in a seven-game stretch prior to Friday night.
"Just seems like we've been putting ourselves in bad positions the last couple weeks -- we've been losing leads or getting behind the 8-ball early, so it's nice to kind of get out in front," Rangers center Ryan Strome told reporters after scoring a goal Sunday. "To get a win, I think any time a young team comes in a tough building like this...it's a good building block. We've got to finish these games off strong here and get ready for next year."
The Devils took solace of their own in extending the Blues, who clinched a playoff berth despite losing Friday night, almost as far into overtime as humanly possible before defenseman Vince Dunn scored the game-winning goal with 2.8 seconds remaining.
The loss marked the second straight time the Devils went into overtime or beyond with a team in the Western Conference playoff picture. New Jersey damaged the Arizona Coyotes' wild card hopes with a 2-1 shootout win on March 23.
"I thought we had great resilience," Devils center Kevin Rooney said following Saturday's loss. "It shows the character in this locker room. We are not going to give up. We are going to fight through the rest of the season and give it all for each other and for the fan base and organization."
--Field Level Media
Devils, Rangers meet one last time with little at stake
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