The Devils return from the All-Star Break with a matchup against the hated rival from across the Hudson.
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM / 101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: Heading into the break, the Devils were looking to finish on a high note against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Devils were riding a 4-game winning streak heading into the game and hoped to put some space between themselves and the Penguins in the Eastern Conference wild card race. Things didn't quite turn out that way for the boys in red, though. After a strong first 15 minutes, the Devils' play spiraled quickly as they were largely dominated for the remaining 75% of the game. Cory Schneider, as he is wont to do, held the Devils in the game with a strong effort, but the offense couldn't muster too much of a threat in the second and third periods and New Jersey fell in a 2-0 shutout. That allowed Pittsburgh to tie the Devils for the final wild card spot with two games in hand, putting the Devils on the outside of the playoffs looking in heading to the break. John had the recap of a rough game here.
The Last Rangers Game: The Rangers similarly hoped to go into the break on a high note in their last game and, unlike the Devils, they succeeded in that capacity. Their level of competition wasn't quite the same with Buffalo visiting Madison Square Garden, but thanks to a big time offensive outburst, they were able to take care of business and head for the break on a high note. The Rangers were able to build a 3-1 lead after a Derrick Brassard goal early in the third, but that lead evaporated in a hurry on two Zemgus Girgensons goals about a minute apart to tie it at three. The Rangers would quickly strike back with two more of their own, though, and cruise to a 6-3 victory after adding an empty netter late. Brassard would finish with 5 points (2G, 3A) as the Rangers solidified their playoff standing before All-Star Weekend. Bryan Winters recapped the win and Brassard's big night at Blueshirt Banter.
The Last Devils-Rangers Game: Way back in October, the Devils and Rangers faced off in their first matchup of the season at the world's most famous arena that doubles as a roof for a train station. At the time, the Devils were at 0-3-1 and still looking for their first win of the season as they headed to Manhattan for a Sunday matinee to turn the tide on their early struggles. They would do just that, as they secured a thrilling overtime win over the Rangers to get into the win column. In an evenly-played game, Schneider was his brilliant self, stopping 27 of 28 shots for the victory and Lee Stempniak scored the overtime game-winner to stick it to the team that underutilized then traded him in 2014-15. It was an emotional win for the Devils and it would get them going on an impressive early season run of games. Shane had the recap of the OT thriller here.
The Goal: Support the goaltender. The Devils have been leaning heavily on their all-star goalie over the past few weeks and if they hope to stay in the playoff race, they are going to have to more consistently get complete performances out of their team. Now would be a fantastic time to break out one of those performances against Our Hated Rivals, who also happen to be one of the teams they are chasing in the playoff race right now. And said performance needs to be longer than one 10-minute stretch of the game. Even if they aren't pouring on the offense, the Devils have try to keep pace with the Rangers and avoid having one of those periods where they put up fewer than 5 shots, particularly with Henrik Lundqvist minding the other goal.
Where's the Lasagna?: Michael Cammalleri apparently re-aggravated a hand injury some time between now and last Tuesday's game and has now been placed on IR retroactive to the Devils' last game. It goes without saying that this is a big hit for the Devils offense and the team in general, but they will have to make due without their leading scorer at least for tonight. The Devils will need some of their other forwards like Adam Henrique and recent birthday boy Kyle Palmieri to step up in his absence.
Shorthanded As Well: The Rangers will also be without one of their top forwards tonight as Rick Nash will be out with a bone bruise in his leg. Nash's absence should help offset the Cammalleri absence for New Jersey and make it a bit easier for the Devils to contain the Rangers' offense. The Devils will still have to deal with players like Mats Zuccarello and Derrick Brassard, though, who are both having career years for the Rangers. Still, the job gets a bit easier with Nash out of the lineup.
First-Timer: Joseph Blandisi had a great January after being called up to fill in for some injured Devils a few weeks ago. He's made a significant impact in his second NHL stint with 6 points in the 8 games since his call-up. Hopefully he can continue that stretch of strong play post-All-Star Break, starting with his first ever matchup against the Rangers for New Jersey. A contribution from him tonight would also be big with Cammalleri now sidelined once again.
This Game Features A Vezina Candidate: At least it will, assuming that Cory Schneider gets the start for New Jersey. At the other end of the ice, the Rangers' longtime netminder Henrik Lundqvist has had a decidedly more up-and-down season. After an extremely hot start, Lundqvist has been decidedly average over the past few months, which has contributed to the Rangers' slide back to the pack in the East. Lundqvist is still one of the league's best until proven otherwise, but for now he is far from invincible and the Devils should try to take advantage of that fact.
Final Thought: If the Devils do hope to continue competing for a playoff spot in the East, a strong start coming out of the All-Star Break will go a long way. A win tonight against the Rangers would be a great way to get that going. And of course a victory over the Rags is always its own reward.
Your Thoughts: So what are your thoughts on tonight's game? Can the Devils overcome the absence of Cammalleri and grab a win to pull within 2 points of the Rangers? Who do you think will have a big impact on tonight's game? Sound off with your thoughts below in the comments and thanks for reading. Go Devils!