For the first time in a decade, the first clash of a season between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers can be accompanied by visions of a playoff rematch.
A pair of Eastern Conference contenders will oppose each other for the first time this year Monday night, when the Devils are slated to visit the Rangers in a battle of longtime rivals.
Both teams were off Sunday after playing at home Saturday, when the surging Devils beat the Washington Capitals 5-1 and the Rangers squandered a three-goal third-period lead and fell to the Edmonton Oilers, 4-3.
The Devils' win was notable in a number of ways. The victory was the 800th for coach Lindy Ruff, who is just the fifth coach to reach 800 wins in NHL history.
"It means I've been around a long time," Ruff said. "You've got to do a lot of right things, have good teams, and the way our team is playing, I have to give them a lot of credit for getting me there."
The victory was also the 15th in the last 16 games for the Devils, who have outscored the Capitals and Buffalo Sabres by a combined margin of 8-2 since a 13-game winning streak -- tied for the longest in franchise history -- ended Wednesday with a 2-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"When you're winning, obviously it's a lot better, but we like our brand of hockey," said Devils center Jack Hughes, who collected his first career hat trick Saturday.
The Devils, who made the playoffs just once in the previous 10 years, will enter Monday with 36 points, tied for the most in the NHL with the Boston Bruins. New Jersey has a 12-point lead over the Rangers, in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division.
The Devils and Rangers haven't made the playoffs in the same season since 2012, when New Jersey outlasted New York in six games in the Eastern Conference finals. That marked the sixth postseason clash between the teams since 1992.
The Rangers seemed to be the likeliest Big Apple-area team to make the playoffs after reaching the Eastern Conference finals last spring. But New York, which has one winning streak of longer than two games this season, has struggled to establish momentum over the first six weeks of the campaign and will enter Monday in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens.
The defeat Saturday marked the eighth time this season the Rangers have lost a game decided by one goal (3-4-4).
The loss was especially frustrating for New York, which allowed the Oilers to score three times in a span of less than six minutes in the third before Alexis Lafreniere was whistled for roughing Tyson Barrie to set up Leon Draisaitl's game-winning power-play goal with 2:02 left.
"We couldn't stop the momentum and try to get the momentum to go the other way," Rangers center Mika Zibanejad said. "That's obviously a tough one, a tough way to lose."
The Rangers also blew a multi-goal third-period lead against the Islanders on Nov. 8, when they gave up three unanswered goals over the final 20 minutes in a 4-3 loss.
"We might have had some bad periods, but I don't remember a four-goal period, so for tonight we were awful," Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. "It's embarrassing. It's not acceptable."
--Field Level Media