Devils Ready To Raise Hell in 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs


The New Jersey Devils have stunned doubters in 2023. (Courtesy of Twitter)

If you asked 100 New Jersey Devils fans in October where the team would be at the end of the 2022-23 season, not a single one would have told you that they’d fly into the playoffs with, statistically, their best season in franchise history. That’s exactly what the Devils accomplished during the regular season, however, earning a franchise record 52 wins and 112 points, easily making the playoffs as the third best team across the entire National Hockey League (NHL) and just one point behind the number one Carolina Hurricanes in the tough Metropolitan Division.

Just last year, the Devils were eliminated from playoff contention with 15 games remaining in the regular season, earning a mere 63 points in the year compared to their 112 in 2022-23. The 49-point turnaround between 2021-22 and 2022-23 is the greatest increase in points earned by any team over two seasons in NHL history. Suffice to say, it has been a surprisingly different and exciting year, headlined by none other than 2019 first overall pick Jack Hughes, whose 99 points (in 78 games) set a new Devils franchise record for points in a single season, beating out Patrik Elias’ record of 96 from the 2000-01 season.

This season marks the Devils’ first playoff appearance since 2017-18, where they narrowly skidded into the postseason on Taylor Hall’s 26-game point streak and Hart Trophy year before going on to lose in round one to the Tampa Bay Lighting in just five games. The Devils were serious underdogs in that series because it was clear that Hall was without much help in terms of points production and New Jersey’s goaltending situation was unsure with two imperfect choices in Keith Kinkaid and Cory Schneider.

Unlike in 2018, the Devils will enter the 2023 playoffs with a stack of scoring weapons, including the likes of Hughes, captain Nico Hischier, star defenseman Dougie Hamilton and sharpshooter Jesper Bratt, all of whom amassed at least 73 points this season. They also added scoring powerhouse Timo Meier from the San Jose Sharks at the trade deadline, and his nine goals since joining New Jersey helped him reach the 40-goal mark on the season. Often underappreciated, though, has been the Devils’ depth this season, which has improved dramatically with Dawson Mercer taking a big leap in his sophomore season, Tomas Tatar emerging as one of the best two-way forwards across the league and Ryan Graves stepping his game up on the blueline among others who made big steps on the season. Not to mention, New Jersey had consistent goaltending for the first time in years through a 33-win season from Vitek Vanecek, who has cemented his status as a stable force in net for the Devils since being acquired in the 2022 offseason.

All this and more has transformed the Devils back into a bonafide powerhouse akin to the late ’90s and early 2000s, making them a force to be reckoned with in the Stanley Cup Playoffs despite their youth and inexperience. However, in front of them in round one lies the equally impressive New York Rangers, who unlike the Devils, have the benefit of playoff experience through their handful of postseason conquests over the last five seasons. That includes an appearance in last season’s Eastern Conference Final, a series they lost in six games to Tampa Bay.

Apart from being bitter rivals both geographically and historically, the Devils’ last playoff series win came against New York in the 2012 Eastern Conference Final, in which then New Jersey rookie Adam Henrique scored the famous overtime winner in game six to send the Devils to the cup. Further back, fans will remember the 1994 playoffs and Mark Messier’s “guarantee” that the Rangers would overcome a 3-1 deficit in the Eastern Conference Finals. Of course, the Rangers would win the series in seven games and go on to win their most recent and first Stanley Cup in 54 years. In 2023, the Rangers come into the playoffs with an incredibly impressive and deep ensemble of players, one that rivals New Jersey in talent. Stars Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, Chris Kreider as well as trade deadline acquisitions, Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko help round out what is one of the most dangerous cores across the NHL. That doesn’t even include the members of the fabled “Kid Line,” the Blueshirts strong blueline or star goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who has kicked his netminding abilities back into overdrive in the second half of the season, making him a potentially unstoppable force in the crease for New York.

Lindy Ruff’s New Jersey team faces an incredibly important challenge in the Rangers, not only because it’s a playoff series against their rivals but because it marks a stepping stone for this youthful team. With so many improving young stars and a somehow historic and surprising season in their back pockets, the Devils can afford to lose this series and expect to be back and better next season. No other team, especially not the New York Rangers, has that luxury coming into the playoffs and in a way, that can ease some of the first timer nerves for the young Devils. Fans are expecting a wild and evenly matched series that could go all the way to seven games, as both teams are determined to make a deep playoff run after such successful regular season campaigns. Additionally, there’s no doubt that Gerard Gallant’s men want revenge on the Devils for taking three of four games against his Rangers earlier this year as much as they are chasing redemption for last year’s conference final. New York’s motivation and experience will present an incredibly difficult opponent for the Devils, but if New Jersey can capture their scoring chops consistently and overcome the obstacle that is their archrivals, then it might be enough fuel to propel them on a long postseason run towards the Stanley Cup.