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Tonight Decides the New Jersey Devils Opening Round Playoff Opponent

With most NHL teams wrapping up their regular season tonight, the New Jersey Devils and the playoff teams jockeying for positioning around them will find out their first opponent. We look today at who we might rather the Devils see.

NHL: New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Between tonight and tomorrow night, the 2022-23 NHL regular season will end. By the end of play tonight, however, our New Jersey Devils and the rest of the Eastern Conference playoff teams will know who their first round series will be against. For the Devils, it’s one of two options: the last team they beat in a first round series, the Florida Panthers, or the last team they beat in the playoffs period in Our Hated Rivals. Today, we take a brief look at the scenarios that could lead to either team, as well as a brief analysis of matchup preference.

Possible Scenarios:

While there’s only two possible results at this point, there’s a variety of paths that lead to one of those results based on how things go for the Devils and current division leaders the Carolina Hurricanes. Based on the NHL’s tie-breaking procedures, here are the different scenarios, and the results they could produce:

  1. Devils win, Hurricanes win: Devils Vs. Our Hated Rivals
  2. Devils win, Hurricanes lose in regulation/OT/SO: Devils Vs. Florida Panthers
  3. Devils lose in OT/SO, Hurricanes lose in regulation: Devils Vs. Florida Panthers
  4. Devils lose in OT/SO, Hurricanes lose in OT/SO: Devils Vs. Our Hated Rivals
  5. Any situation where the Devils lose in regulation: Devils Vs. Our Hated Rivals

If the Devils pick up no points tonight (scenario 5) or the same number of points as Carolina (scenario 1 and 4), they open as the second seed with home ice against Our Hated Rivals. If the Devils move into a situation where they tie Carolina or exceed them in points (scenarios 2 and 3), they win the Metropolitan division, and open against the Florida Panthers. Even if the Devils and Carolina finish with the same number of points, the Devils win the division by the second tiebreaker; no team will have fewer games played after tonight, and the Devils hold one more extra regulation win than the Canes, which is the second tiebreaker.

I do believe the Panthers will be a tough game for the Hurricanes tonight, as they would probably prefer to play a series against them or the Devils rather than the buzzsaw known as the Boston Bruins. Likewise, Carolina probably comes in with few, if any, players being rested tonight with the division still on the line. I also expect the same of our Devils in Washington this evening.

So What’s the Better First Round Matchup?

As much as I would love to see the Devils win the Metropolitan, I don’t think I want to see Florida in the first round. While they definitely have some holes in their lineup, the Panthers did win the season series 2-1. On the other hand, things went very favorably the last time these two teams met in the playoffs; two completely teams on each side, sure, but I’d still bank on that little bit of history there. What does make me worry about Florida is that they have a lot of good forwards who can score in bunches; the Devils have a roster that can neutralize them, but there’s more explosivity with the Panthers.

While I’m dreading the ticket price increase if it happens, from a matchup standpoint, I think I prefer to see a first round rivalry. The Devils took three of four from the Rangers in the regular season, with the opposition’s only win coming in 3 on 3 overtime. Additionally, I think some (majority?) of the Rangers roster isn’t built for a speedy, seven game series. Much as they may have better goaltending than Florida, I don’t think getting peppered with shots and having multiple odd man rushes coming against you is a strategy that will push Our Hated Rivals past us. Also, here’s hoping that when Jacob Trouba inevitably attempts to make another dumb hit, that he whiffs it again.

Your Preferred Matchup

What are your thoughts on tonight’s action and how it can affect the opening round? Would you prefer the Devils to win the Metro? Do you think we matchup better against the Panthers or OHR? Would you prefer to see a first round rivalry series just for the intensity or for any other reason? Leave any and all thoughts below and thanks as always for reading!