NEWARK — The Devils moved to New Jersey in 1982, and since 1982 they have operated in the long shadow the Rangers cast from across the Hudson River.
Even winning three Stanley Cups since the Rangers last won one in 1994 has not fundamentally changed that dynamic.
But on Tuesday night, the Rangers learned that as loud and dedicated as their fans are when the team travels, the first two games of their first-round playoff series against the Devils are true road games.
Coach Gerard Gallant has treated them that way, having the Rangers stay and practice in New Jersey in preparation for Game 2 on Thursday night.
Devils fans have treated this that way, too, turning out in force and doing everything possible to drown out their blue-jersey-wearing counterparts.
The fact that the Rangers got out to an early lead in Game 1 en route to a 5-1 victory helped mute the enthusiasm.
But Devils fans turned up the volume from the start, making the Prudential Center sound as if it were a game in a farther flung locale such as, say, Raleigh, where the Islanders lost their first two playoff games.
Perhaps 25% of the building was occupied by Rangers fans, who fully enjoyed the victory. But every time they began a “Let’s go, Rangers!” chant they were met with loud boos from the majority.
It is exactly the sort of charged atmosphere that animates these local rivalries.
“Fans were screaming at the top of their lungs,” Devils defenseman Kevin Bahl said. “I couldn’t even hear myself think. It was amazing.
“It was just so loud. They were screaming for like 15 minutes straight, I thought. It was crazy. That was a fun game to be in, a fun experience.”
“Experience” has been a buzzword before and during this series, specifically the Rangers’ abundance of it and the Devils’ lack of it.
Gallant has grown so tired of the topic he used an expletive to describe it before Game 2.
But the youthful Devils had more of it after Game 1 than they did before, and the atmosphere in the building was part of that.
“I could hear their fans and then I could hear our fans outnumbering them,” Bahl said. “That’s a fun part of the experience.”
The Devils’ Miles Wood said, “When the Rangers fans started to cheer, the Devils fans would cheer over them. It was a little bit back and forth. That was awesome. It’s a cool atmosphere.”
Adam Fox knows the area’s history and rivalries well, having grown up in Jericho. He said of Game 1, “It was cool to be a part of it.”
“We have some of the best fans in the league and they travel well, not that’s it’s too far of a travel,” Fox said.
Jimmy Vesey, who spent his first four NHL seasons with the Rangers, was a Devil last year and now is back with the Rangers. This is his first playoff appearance since he was a Rangers rookie in 2017.
“I was interested to see how it looked out there,” he said. “During the regular season, it’s usually quite a bit of Rangers fans, but I thought the Devils had a good crowd.
“In the beginning of the game especially, I thought the atmosphere was really good. I think how the first period went took them out of the game a little bit.
“But I thought it was a good atmosphere. It’s what you want.”
Braden Schneider said he loved hearing Rangers fans continually get chants going despite Devils fans’ attempts to overwhelm them.
“They’re always there, even games that are further [away] during the regular season,” Schneider said. “To see them show up for us in the playoffs here was awesome to see.”
Presumably, Devils fans will make up a tiny percentage of the audience when the teams meet at Madison Square Garden for Games 3 and 4.
If the Islanders can come from behind to win their series against the Hurricanes, fans of the winner of the Devils-Rangers series will get more chances to keep the local rivalry flames stoked in the second round.
As Vesey said, “It’s what you want.”