Battle of the Hudson returns Tuesday for 1st time since 2012
Mike Rupp lived in northern New Jersey when he was playing for the New York Rangers in 2012, so like your average suburban commuter, he took the train to work.
Rupp would leave his home in Oakland, New Jersey, and drive 10 minutes to Ridgewood, where he would get on either the Bergen County Line or the Main Line train to Secaucus. From there he’d transfer and go one more stop to Penn Station New York, which is directly underneath Madison Square Garden.
And during the 2012 Eastern Conference Final between the Rangers and New Jersey Devils, let’s just say things got interesting, and heated, as Rupp rode the rails to the Garden.
“I’m on the train in heading into the game and it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” said Rupp, now an analyst for NHL Network and occasionally Rangers games on the radio. “I remember I’d be wearing a hat, I’d have sunglasses on. Not that I’m anybody, but these are fans. But half the train is chanting, ‘Let’s go Rangers,’ and half the train is ‘Let’s go Devils.’ I even once had to break up a fight from people trying to beat up some guy in a Marty Brodeur jersey and here I am playing for the Rangers. It’s like, ‘Guys, come on, what are we doing?’ But it was really fun. I loved it.”
So were the days when he stayed at hotel near the Garden after a morning skate just so he could try to get in a pregame nap.
“They had the double-decker busses with fans on them chanting, ‘Let’s go Rangers,'” Rupp said. “It was so cool. I’m trying to take a pregame nap and I just hear, ‘Let’s go Rangers, let’s go Rangers.’ I’m like getting goosebumps trying to sleep.”
The Battle of the Hudson is back after being somewhat dormant since Rupp was a straphanger going to his own Stanley Cup Playoff games 11 years ago.
The Devils and Rangers, separated by fewer than 15 driving miles from Manhattan to Newark across, or under, the Hudson River, are ready to go head-to-head in the Eastern Conference First Round, with Game 1 at Prudential Center on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; TBS, SN360, TVAS2, MSG 2, MSGSN2, MSGSN).
It’s the seventh time they will play in the playoffs (1992, 1994, 1997, 2006, 2008, 2012), and other than Rangers forward Chris Kreider, who was a rookie in 2012, the series figures to be unlike anything the players and coaches involved have seen in their NHL careers.
“Our fan base, the Rangers fan base, the people live together, families have fans of both teams,” said former Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who played all six previous series. “Some of my best friends are Rangers fans. Hey, it is what it is. You live in this area, you have to learn to live with each other. It’s not like you’re in St. Louis and it’s just St. Louis people, or Nashville and it’s just Nashville people. This is a lot different here. The players will see it. There’s so much at stake.”
The Rangers have gotten the better of the Devils four times, starting with a seven-game Patrick Division Semifinals series in 1992 that featured a bench clearing brawl at the end of Game 6, a 5-3 Devils win at Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
“That was my first taste of Rangers and Devils, so of course right away I thought I have to hate these guys,” Brodeur said. “It was right away for me.”
They met again two years later, in the 1994 Eastern Conference Final, which ended with Stephane Matteau’s series-clinching double-overtime goal in Game 7 that sent the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final they eventually won against the Vancouver Canucks, giving them their first championship in 54 years.
“That was one of the greatest playoff series ever played,” former Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko said. “The pain of it, though.”
There were nine Hockey Hall of Famers in that series: Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Glenn Anderson, Sergei Zubov and Kevin Lowe for the Rangers, and Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens and Viacheslav Fetisov for the Devils.
Messier, Leetch, Adam Graves and Mike Richter all have their jersey numbers retired by the Rangers. Brodeur, Daneyko, Niedermayer and Stevens do for the Devils.
“Whenever I’m around Mark and Graves and Leetch and Richter over the last several years, whether it’s charity golf events or whatever it may be, we still talk about that series and the fact that it was so intense,” Daneyko said. “I mean, that series was just so, so intense. Yes, the game was played differently then, but all of the Hall of Famers in that series, amazing. I was proud to be part of that series and thank God we won the next year because that eased the pain.”
Howie Rose’s epic call of “Matteau, Matteau, Matteau” at the end of Game 7 became iconic and synonymous with that series and the rivalry. Matteau himself became a New York legend even though he played only parts of three seasons with the Rangers, from 1994-96.
Similarly, though not with the same fanfare, is how Adam Henrique is remembered by Devils fans for scoring the overtime winner in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Final to send New Jersey to the Stanley Cup Final, a six-game loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
“If you want to be somebody that makes a difference, you will if you do well in a Devils-Rangers series,” Brodeur said. “Look at Adam Henrique, everybody knows him because of his goal. If that doesn’t drive you, well, that’s your problem. To me, that’s the ultimate, to have a chance to do something special against a rival in a place where everybody lives together. Matteau, he played [three] years in New York and they still chant his name.”
Henrik Lundqvist was a rookie goalie when he got his first experience in the Devils-Rangers series. New Jersey swept Lundqvist and the Rangers in the first round in 2006, but they got the Devils back in 2008 with a five-game, first-round series win.
“The energy,” Lundqvist said. “Obviously in playoffs everything goes up, but when you play a team that is so close and you have your battles throughout the year and then you face them in the playoffs, there is something about the excitement from the fans and how much it divides people. Within families you have some people who grew up Rangers fans and they might have a dad who is a Devils fan. It’s stuff like that. It’s this unique energy when it means so much to the fans. That’s something you can feel as a player.”
Especially a Rangers player in New Jersey, Lundqvist said.
“A lot of times when we did play there, I’m not going to say half the building was Rangers fans, but it was a big part and that creates this extra excitement,” Lundqvist said. “It’s like back and forth, the energy in the building, the momentum swings. It was not 100 percent home ice.”
Four players have experienced it from both sides.
Rupp played for the Devils in 2008 and for the Rangers in 2012. Petr Sykora played for the Rangers in 2006 and the Devils in 2012. Scott Gomez was with the Devils in 2006 and the Rangers in 2008. Bruce Driver was with the Devils in 1992 and 1994, the Rangers in 1997.
“I remember when I was with the Devils I had an issue with my skate in one of the home playoff games,” Rupp said. “I went to the locker room to get my skate sharpened and I hear cheering. I’m like, ‘Yes, we scored.’ And I walk out and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, the Rangers scored.'”
The players hear all about their exploits on the ice outside of the arena.
Leetch recalls people in his building in Manhattan talking to him about how badly they needed him to defeat the Devils because they work with a Devils fan and they wanted the bragging rights.
“You hear it every day,” Leetch said. “It’s just a reminder of what’s going on around you. The daily interaction, you come across people every day that remind you that it means as much if not more to them than it does to you. So you’re like, ‘I’m the one getting paid here so I better buckle down.’ The everyday reminder of what it means to people outside of your circle is great.”
The Rangers and Devils players of today have gotten small snippets of that in the regular season. They’ve been told they’re not supposed to like the other team because they’re a rival, but they haven’t lived it, so really, Rupp said, they don’t know.
They will find out. And feelings will change.
“They’ve had some good games, but they haven’t had anything like this,” Rupp said. “In 2012, we had fights every game. Not that that’s the way now, but we hated each other; just hated each other. I’m not sure they hate each other right now, but when they feel the passion from the fans, they’re really going to dislike the other team that much more. Right now they know they’re not supposed to like them, but that’s much different from I don’t like them.”