Rangers-Devils showdown comes with big Garden implications
Thursday night’s showdown at Prudential Center between the Rangers and the Devils comes with a lot of layers.
Not only do the Rangers have an opportunity to pull even with the Devils in second place in the Metropolitan Division standings with 100 points, but this contest could serve as a preview of the first round of the playoffs.
As it stands, the Rangers and Devils are headed to a Round 1 meeting.
The primary thing up in the air is who will have home-ice advantage.
It might not seem like a big deal, considering both teams will be sleeping in their own beds every night no matter who the higher seed is, but the Rangers know just how much of a boost playing at the Garden gives them after having home ice in two of their three playoff rounds last season.
“I think it’s more principle,” K’Andre Miller told The Post after practice at MSG Training Center on Wednesday. “Obviously, we know they’re right across the river and all, but I think just having that in the back of your head that we’re going back to MSG for another dogfight is always fun. I know we really enjoyed that last year.
“Just the atmosphere from Game 1 on to every game in the playoffs at MSG, it was wild, rambunctious, energized. It was everything. It was so much fun.”
Both teams get to size each other up before wrapping up the regular season.
Neither team, however, will be at full strength.
The Devils, who turned heads earlier this season with a 13-game win streak, will likely be without Nathan Bastian.
The 25-year-old wing has missed the past eight games with an upper-body injury.
On the other hand, the Rangers have been without Ryan Lindgren for 14 of their past 15 contests as the defenseman works his way back from a shoulder injury.
He is expected to be out again Thursday night.
“We haven’t played them in a while,” said Jimmy Vesey, who played last season with the Devils. “They obviously got a big player in [Timo] Meier, and we’ve got four big players [Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, Tyler Motte and Niko Mikkola] that we got at the deadline. So teams are built a little differently this time of year. I think it should be a fun game.”
Though they might be battling for second place in the Metro, the Rangers will just want to make it through these final eight games.
As Miller pointed out, health should be the No. 1 priority for every team at this time of year.
The Rangers sat a few players out of the final couple games last season, but they probably won’t have that luxury this year.
Amid Lindgren’s prolonged absence and their salary cap situation, the Rangers don’t have any extras to play.
That’s why it’ll be all the more important for head coach Gerard Gallant to keep an eye on ice times in the coming weeks.
“I think you see what’s going on with our group, everybody’s playing 14, 15, 16 minutes,” Gallant said when asked about load management. “It’s working. We’re in a good spot. There’s no sense in playing people 27-28 minutes, you don’t have to do it. I like the way our forward group is going and I like the ice time for our D.
“You coach to win every game, and when you can do what we’ve done the last three weeks, it’s perfect. So I hope it happens for the next two weeks the same way.”