But whether the third-seeded Devils and seventh-seeded Rangers can jockey into a first-round matchup is secondary to the fans and media in the metropolitan area, however, as the meeting also sees the Rangers' Sean Avery renew acquaintances with the Devils' Martin Brodeur.
The "reunion" will be the first meeting between Avery and Brodeur since Avery rejoined the Rangers this season. Earlier this season, the Devils thumped Avery and the Dallas Stars, 5-0.
Prior to that, Avery's and Brodeur's last meeting came during the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs when Avery's "face guarding" tactics caused considerable uproar. To Rangers fans, the never-before-seen play was viewed as the greatest thing since sliced bread. From a Devils' perspective, it was labeled poor sportsmanship.
Brodeur, who is the NHL's all-time leader in career victories (553) and needs just two shutouts to tie Terry Sawchuk's League standard of 103, looks at it as another game on the schedule and an opportunity for his team to snap a four-game losing streak.
"It doesn't really matter who we play right now," Brodeur told Rich Chere of The (Newark) Star-Ledger. "We just want to play well and get out of this (slump) as quick as possible so we can finish the season on a good note."
Avery's stick-waving antics in Game 3 of New York's Eastern Conference first-round series victory against the Devils at the Garden last season was certainly a hot topic. If you'll recall, that's when Avery planted himself in front of Brodeur and began waving his hands and stick in the goalie's face while the Devils were defending a 3-on-5 that eventually resulted in a goal by Avery.
Avery has not commented on tonight's matchup, but wasn't at a loss for words last time around.
"When you put the jersey on, you represent the team and the city and I certainly do cross the line at times, but it's not out of anything other than wanting to win the game," Avery said at the time. "I think I'm coming to a team that's happy to have me and expecting a lot out of me. I'm willing to take it to the next level and I think I proved what level I can take my game in New York.
"I'm actually a pretty mellow guy off the ice; laid back. I think my on-ice persona is almost somewhat of a character. It would be too tough to live like that 24 hours a day. I'd be dead by now if that were the case."
In 12 games since rejoining the Rangers off re-entry waivers on March 3, Avery has produced 4 goals, 9 points and 22 penalty minutes while playing on the top line alongside center Scott Gomez and right wing Ryan Callahan. The Rangers, one win shy of posting their fourth consecutive 40-win season, have gone 7-4-1 with Avery in the lineup and are currently seventh in the East with 39 wins and 87 points.
Avery had 3 goals, 7 assists and what was then a League-high 77 penalty minutes in 23 appearances with the Dallas Stars before incurring a six-game suspension on Dec. 2 for inappropriate comments he made about the personal lives of other NHL players. In the wake of that suspension, Avery agreed to undergo anger-management counseling.
Glen Sather, the general manager of the Rangers, eventually agreed to let Avery be assigned to the Rangers American Hockey League affiliate in Hartford. Avery played for the Rangers last season before signing a four-year, $15.5 million deal with Dallas this summer as an unrestricted free agent.
"I do think that Sean is a marked guy," Rangers captain Chris Drury said. "He's played extremely hard and clean since he's been back. He's never been suspended for something on the ice."
Following a 4-3 loss to the Penguins on Saturday, Rangers coach John Tortorella expressed his displeasure with the way, as he describes, Avery is being targeted by officials.
"I'm the first one to say that Sean makes his own bed with some of the things that happened, but I think he's done his penance here," Tortorella said. "All I want is, I hope he's given a fair shake. He does something stupid on the ice, give him a penalty. If it warrants him getting kicked out the game, kick him out of the game. But the way he's trying to concentrate on the game, and the way he's trying to play, I hope he gets treated fairly."
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who is 14-5-4 with a 1.88 goals-against average and two shutouts in 23 career regular-season games against the Devils, agreed with Tortorella.
The Devils, who sit third in the East with 47 wins and 98 points, are 1-4-1 over their last six games. New Jersey has won three of the previous five meetings this season between the clubs, but Scott Clemmensen was the winning goalie in all three, including a 3-0 decision on Feb. 9 at Prudential Center when he turned aside 27 shots. Brodeur is 39-20-19 all-time against the Rangers with a 2.07 GAA and .919 save percentage.
Devils wing Zach Parise, who leads the club with 4 goals and 11 points in six games against the Rangers this season, knows the importance of getting a win against their heated rival.
"The fact it's against our rivals and they're fighting for their lives (makes it big)," Parise told The Star-Ledger. "Most importantly, we have to snap out of this. It seems like we (used to) get the one goal, come back with the next one and we'd take over the game. Now it seems like we get that one and we're satisfied. It's frustrating."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.