Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Rangers, is 11 miles from Newark, New Jersey's Prudential Center, home of the New Jersey Devils. They are separated by a river. They are bonded by an intense, decades-long enmity.
The Battle of the Hudson is one of the NHL's most storied rivalries. For the first time since 2012, the Rangers and Devils will face each other in a playoff series, beginning tonight in Newark. It marks the seventh time these franchises will have met in the Stanley Cup playoffs, with New York holding a 4-2 lead in series victories.
The animosity between these unfriendly neighbors extends from the fans to the players to even their front offices -- consider that the Rangers and Devils made their first trade together in 2018.
"The hatred? I couldn't even put a number on it. The hatred was off the charts," said Ken Daneyko, who played 20 seasons with the Devils before becoming a broadcaster for the team. "It was an unwritten rule that you wouldn't even say their name. I imagine it was the same thing for them. It was that kind of rivalry."
Case in point: Daneyko has been friends since childhood with Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Messier, who would send him notes while winning Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s. After Messier was acquired by the Rangers in 1991, he and Daneyko didn't speak for years.
"We laugh about it now. But it was too much at the time," Daneyko said. "You wanted to beat your tunnel rival, your train rival, your local rival. You wanted to be kings of the area. A lot of it was driven by the fans. You wanted to win for them, give them the bragging rights."
Home-ice advantage hits differently in a New York vs. New Jersey series.
Since the Devils moved from Colorado to New Jersey in 1982, there have been Rangers fans in the building when New York visits: a sea of red jerseys with large swaths of vibrant blue shirts often shouting down the Jersey faithful. In recent years, more and more red has been seen in the stands at Madison Square Garden. In a Devils win at MSG this season, one could hear a robust chant mocking Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin emanating from the Jersey fans in the building.
The rivalry has taken several turns through the years. From 1982 to '94, the Devils were a second-class citizen to the Rangers, an Original Six team. The Devils were the younger sibling, playing in the shadow of an iconic NHL franchise that would monopolize media attention. The Rangers had rivalries that were just as intense with the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, among others. But the Battle of the Hudson was cemented for the Devils and Rangers in 1994, when New York won a classic conference finals series en route to the Stanley Cup.
From 1995 to 2003, the Devils became dynastic in winning three Stanley Cups while the Rangers missed the playoffs for several seasons. The teams were competitive through 2012, with the Devils eventually slipping into a prolonged rebuild.
Now, the Devils are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2018, having completed the most successful regular season in team history. They play an up-tempo style led by a star center in Jack Hughes. They face a Rangers team that made the Eastern Conference finals last season and added more bold-type names to a star-studded roster, with deadline acquisitions Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko joining the likes of Artemi Panarin and Adam Fox.
It will be another edition of a classic hockey rivalry. But as we look back at the Battle of the Hudson, this playoff series has quite a legacy to live up to.
1992: Messier, Stevens and a memorable brawl
The first playoff meeting between the Devils and Rangers took place in the 1992 Patrick Division semifinals. Both teams experienced franchise-redefining moments before the season, thanks to the arrival of two Hall of Fame players.
In September 1991, an arbitrator awarded star defenseman Scott Stevens to New Jersey as compensation for the St. Louis Blues signing restricted free agent Brendan Shanahan. Stevens would play 13 seasons for the Devils and captain them to three Stanley Cup championships.
In October 1991, the Rangers would make an even bigger splash by acquiring Oilers star Mark Messier in a blockbuster trade. Messier would tally 107 points in 1992-93, winning the Hart Trophy as league MVP and leading to the Rangers to the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best regular-season team.
Of course, he'd lead them to even greater heights two years later.
The underdog Devils gave the Rangers all they could handle in the series, taking a 2-1 lead and eventually pushing New York all the way to Game 7. But the Rangers jumped on the Devils in the first period of the series finale with three goals en route to an 8-4 victory to eliminate New Jersey. Messier would finish with 11 points in the series -- a pinprick before the agony he'd deliver Devils fans two years later.
The most memorable moment from this series: a benches-clearing brawl at the end of the Devils' Game 6 victory that included Stevens and Claude Lemieux of the Devils as well as Adam Graves, Tie Domi and Joey Kocur of the Rangers, among others.
Daneyko remembered mulling around on the ice wondering what to do if the brawl escalated, as he had "two crushed fingers" in a rubber cast.
"It was a different mentality. A different era," he said. "You were sending a message. It was nasty as hell."
The series also featured a notable playoff debut for the Devils: 19-year-old goalie Martin Brodeur played 32 minutes in relief of starting goalie Chris Terreri in their Game 5 loss. He would finish his career having played 12,717 minutes in the postseason.
1994: Messier's guarantee
In the two years since their first playoff meeting, the Rangers were still trying to break an epic Stanley Cup drought, having last raised the chalice in 1940. After missing the playoffs in the previous season, the Rangers hired notorious taskmaster Mike Keenan as head coach and added more of Messier's ex-Oilers teammates at the trade deadline in Craig MacTavish and Glenn Anderson.
The Devils entered the playoffs after their first 100-point regular season in franchise history. They defeated the Buffalo Sabres in seven games and the Boston Bruins in six to reach the conference finals for just the second time in franchise history ... and found their local rivals waiting for them, having won eight of nine playoff games in swiftly dispatching the Islanders and Washington Capitals.
A dozen years of growing animosity forged one of the most thrilling playoff series in either team's history. It started with a double-overtime win for the Devils at MSG on a goal by Stephane Richer. It continued with a second double-overtime contest, as Stephane Matteau -- remember the name -- scored to give the Rangers Game 3. But the Devils roared back with two straight wins, with Brodeur stopping 46 of 48 shots.
They were up 3-1 in the series. They had a chance to deliver their archrivals a humbling defeat. But Messier guaranteed they wouldn't. The Rangers captain told reporters before Game 6 that "we will win tonight." The boast made New York tabloid headlines ahead of the game.
He didn't seem like much of a prophet after the first period, as the Devils held a 2-0 lead on goals by Scott Niedermayer and Lemieux. But Messier would have a hand in four straight Rangers goals -- including a third-period natural hat trick. The Rangers would force Game 7, and Messier's guarantee would enter a pantheon of New York sports lore that was previously occupied only by Joe Namath's Super Bowl guarantee for the Jets in 1969.
1994: Matteau, Matteau, Matteau
The Stanley Cup playoffs are at their apex for intensity in a Game 7. To have two bitter rivals facing off in a Game 7 brings unparalleled tension.
The Rangers led the Devils 1-0 deep into the third period, with goalie Mike Richter looking like he was going to pitch an elimination game shutout. But with Brodeur pulled, New Jersey winger Valeri Zelepukin tied the game with eight seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime.
It remained 1-1 through the first overtime, with both teams having chances to end the series. It wouldn't end until yet another double overtime, when Matteau scored his second extra-time game-winning goal of the series, leading to Rangers announcer Howie Rose's instantly iconic call:
It's the seemingly ordinary plays that often produce legendary moments in playoff overtimes. Here it was Matteau, stealing the puck and attempting a quick wraparound on Brodeur, who sent the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final. They'd beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games and lift the 54-year curse as Messier lifted the Cup.
"For us, it was devastating. It was heartbreaking. The emptiest feeling I ever had in my life," Daneyko said. "But it was as good a playoff series as ever played."
One year later, the Devils were the ones drinking from the Cup, as New Jersey shocked the hockey world by sweeping the mighty Detroit Red Wings in the 1995 finals after a lockout-shortened 48-game regular season.
And if you don't think Rangers fans were quick to accuse the Devils of winning "half a Cup," then you don't know this rivalry.
1995: 'I painted my face'
The classic sitcom "Seinfeld" had its share of memorable sports inspirations, from baseball legend Keith Hernandez being accused of hocking a "magic loogie" at Kramer and Newman, to Larry David providing the voice of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner as a recurring character. In 1995, the Devils-Rangers rivalry provided another.
The 23rd episode of the show's sixth season was titled "The Face Painter." Jerry gets tickets to a playoff game between the local rivals and has an extra. Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) asks if she can bring her boyfriend David Puddy (Patrick Warburton), who is a Devils fan. As they prepare to head to the game, Elaine discovers that Puddy has painted his face like a devil's in the franchise's colors, justifying it by saying "gotta support the team."
After acting rambunctiously during the Devils' victory at MSG, Puddy is still fired up on the walk home when a car nearly hits him. Puddy slams on the car's hood and begins yelling at an elderly priest in the passenger seat:
"Don't mess with the Devils, buddy. We're No. 1, we beat anybody! We're the Devils! The Devilsssss!" he shouts, before hissing.
We later find out the priest won't leave his room in the church basement because he believes he saw "El Diablo" himself.
Later, Puddy vows not to paint his face any longer, to Elaine's delight. Much to her dismay, she discovers he instead has painted a "D" in his chest because "I said no more face painting, and as you can see this is not my face."
The clips from the episode are still shown at Devils home games, and Warburton himself has appeared at the arena in face paint, getting his own "David Puddy" bobblehead as a giveaway.
"I still get 'Puddy!' a lot, or 'the Devils!' -- I get that from people who aren't Devils fans. It has crossed state lines, actually," he told the Star-Ledger.
1997: Messier knocks out Jersey (again)
The next playoff series for the Rangers and Devils occurred in 1997, when the two teams met in the Eastern Conference semifinals. In an effort to win another Cup with Messier, the Rangers added another one of his old Edmonton teammates: someone named Wayne Gretzky, whom they signed in the summer of 1996. The Great One would play three seasons with the Rangers before retiring with the team in 1999.
The Devils missed the playoffs after winning the Cup in 1995. They too added a future Hall of Famer to their lineup, trading for Toronto Maple Leafs star Doug Gilmour at the 1997 deadline.
After the Devils won Game 1, the series arguably turned on an incident between Messier and Gilmour in Game 2. Late in the first period, Messier cross-checked Gilmour in the face. No penalty was called, but the Devils' Bill Guerin took a charging penalty that led to the Rangers' first goal on the power play. They'd win Game 2 and not lose again in the series, as Adam Graves scored in overtime of Game 5 to eliminate the Devils.
It was a frustrating series for New Jersey. The Devils had multiple goals taken off the board under the NHL's then-draconian "skaters in the crease" rules. They also watched Richter continue to own them, at one point making a save with his bare hand.
2002: Holik leaves for the Rangers
After 1997, when the Rangers lost in the conference finals, the fortunes of the teams started to shift. New York would miss the playoffs for seven straight seasons; New Jersey would make the playoffs in each of those seasons, winning three conference titles and the Stanley Cup in 2000 and 2003.
Center Bobby Holik was an integral part of the Devils' first two Stanley Cup wins. But after a contentious arbitration process in 2001 and the team's refusal to meet his price, the free agent left New Jersey for the Rangers and a massive five-year, $45 million contract. Said Holik, "The only ones I gave any serious thought to were from the Rangers."
The Devils would have the last laugh on this one: Holik never lived up to his contract, and the Rangers bought out the final two years of the deal in 2005, right as the NHL instituted a salary cap.
2006: The Devils sweep
The Rangers finally returned to the playoffs in 2006.
"When you have playoff hockey at the world's most famous arena, you can't put a price on that," said Kevin Weekes, who played for both the Rangers and the Devils. Weekes was the backup to rookie Henrik Lundqvist that season.
New York returned to the postseason with a new marquee name leading the way: Jaromir Jagr, who finished second in the MVP voting after a 123-point season. The Devils were in their first season without the Scotts: Stevens retired and Niedermayer left to sign with his brother Rob's team, the Anaheim Ducks, with whom he'd win a fourth Stanley Cup in 2007.
This was the most lopsided series the teams have played to date. Devils star Patrik Elias had a six-point performance in New Jersey's 6-1 Game 1 victory, a game that saw Jagr injure himself trying to hit Devils center Scott Gomez, and miss Game 2. The nadir of the series might have been in the second game, when Rangers defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh accidentally knocked the puck behind Weekes, who was starting in place of Lundqvist.
The Devils completed the sweep with a 4-2 win at MSG.
2007: Scott Gomez defects
Once again, the Rangers' riches enticed a two-time Stanley Cup winner for the Devils to cross the Hudson. Alaska-born center Scott Gomez won rookie of the year honors in 2000 and established himself as the Devils' best homegrown center until the arrival of Jack Hughes. But in 2007, he hit unrestricted free agency and admitted that business trumped organizational loyalty.
On July 1, the Rangers announced the signings of Gomez and former Sabres center Chris Drury to massive free-agent deals. Gomez was given a seven-year contract with $51.5 million that included $10 million in the first season.
"To a hockey fan, signing a contract with the Rangers after spending several years with New Jersey probably sounds like treason," Gomez would tell The Players Tribune in 2015. "But the truth is that most of my teammates were happy for me."
While not nearly the disaster that the Holik signing was, Gomez spent only two seasons with the Rangers before they traded him to Montreal for a package that included defensive prospect Ryan McDonagh -- considered one of the greatest steals in team history.
2008: The Avery rule
Sean Avery contained multitudes. He's the only person in NHL history to be voted the most hated player in the league by The Hockey News and land on People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" list. One of those honors motivated the Rangers to acquire the tenacious winger in 2007, after which he immediately inserted himself in their rivalry with the Devils by becoming Brodeur's personal tormentor.
Avery's first game as a Ranger was against the Devils, and he crashed into Brodeur. The mask-less goalie retaliated with a shove and then flopped to the ice when Avery pushed back. Their war of words spilled over into the media during subsequent battles, with Brodeur admitting his disdain for Avery, and Avery claiming he couldn't understand any of Brodeur's trash talk because of his Quebecois accent.
The Devils and Rangers met again in the 2008 Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Brodeur had established himself as the NHL's top goaltender and would win his fourth Vezina Trophy in five seasons. Avery had established himself as the NHL's preeminent pest and had won the hearts of Rangers fans.
Despite finishing behind the Devils in the standings, the Rangers won the first two games of the series, with Lundqvist outdueling Brodeur. The Devils would get their only win in the series in Game 3, eventually bowing out in five games. But that's not the reason anyone remembers Game 3.
They remember it for "The Avery Rule."
In the second period with the Rangers on a 5-on-3 power play, Avery skated to the front of Brodeur's crease. With his back to the rest of the skaters, Avery raised his stick in the air and waved it in front of Brodeur's mask. The Devils goalie attempted to swat it away with his stick. Avery then added a raised glove to his routine. Eventually, the Rangers would score on the power play on a goal by -- who else? -- Sean Avery.
"I don't think that kind of behavior should be done in front of the net, but there is no rule for it," Brodeur said.
The next day, there was: The NHL claimed its unsportsmanlike conduct penalty covered Avery's actions.
"An unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty will be interpreted and applied, effective immediately, to a situation when an offensive player positions himself facing the opposition goaltender and engages in actions such as waving his arms or stick in front of the goaltender's face, for the purpose of improperly interfering with and/or distracting the goaltender as opposed to positioning himself to try to make a play," Colin Campbell, the NHL director of hockey operations, said in a statement.
After the series, the Devils and Rangers met in the traditional handshake line. Brodeur passed by without acknowledging Avery.
"Everyone talks about how unclassy I am, and 'Fatso' there just forgot to shake my hand I guess," Avery said.
2012: The Henrique goal
The last playoff meeting between the Devils and Rangers before this season's Battle of the Hudson took place in 2012.
"You could see the hatred between the teams still existed," Daneyko said.
New York was the top seed in the Eastern Conference under coach John Tortorella, winning two tough seven-game series against Ottawa and Washington to reach the conference finals. While defensively sound in front of Lundqvist, the Rangers had some offensive firepower in 41-goal scorer Marian Gaborik and center Brad Richards, the previous summer's free agent prize whom they signed to a massive nine-year, $60 million free agent deal.
But lest the Rangers have all the free-spending fun, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello handed winger Ilya Kovalchuk a 15-year, $100 million contract extension in 2010 after his 17-year, $102 million contract was rejected by the NHL for cap circumvention. Kovalchuk helped the No. 6-seeded Devils to wins over the Florida Panthers (seven games) and Philadelphia Flyers (five games) to set up another meeting with the Rangers.
The teams split the first four games of the series, making Game 5 a pivotal one. It became an instant classic between the rivals: the Devils putting three goals behind Lundqvist in the first 9:49 of the game; the Rangers rallying to tie the contest just 17 seconds into the third period; and unsung New Jersey depth forward Ryan Carter breaking that tie with less than five minutes left in regulation for what would be a 5-3 Devils win.
The next game had some eerie historic symmetry. Game 6 was held on May 25, 2012, in Newark. That was 18 years to the day since Messier guaranteed victory in Game 6. Just like in 1994, the Devils took a 2-0 lead only to have the Rangers rally with two goals to tie it. Unlike in 1994, this game went to overtime ... where the Devils ended the déjà vu on Adam Henrique's goal at 1:03 to send New Jersey to its fifth Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.
The Devils would lose to the Los Angeles Kings, who also beat the Rangers in the Cup finals in 2014.
After beating Lundqvist, Henrique skated over and jumped into the glass as his teammates mobbed him. Fans in red jerseys stood and cheered. Fans in blue jerseys streamed to the exits. All of them knowing more skirmishes in the Battle of Hudson were ahead.
The names change. The fortunes reverse. But the rivalry remains, ready for its next chapter to be written.