Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Strong Devils, Rangers, Isles Keep Division Compelling

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Strong Devils, Rangers, Isles Keep Division Compelling

Article excerpt

This is what Kyle Palmieri remembers from his childhood, growing up in Montvale.

All three area NHL teams are in the thick of the Metropolitan Division playoff chase and, coupled with Wednesday's announcement the Islanders will return to Long Island after winning the right to build a new arena at Belmont Park, hockey is as strong in these parts as it's been in years.

"It almost has the feeling of a tight playoff race in March and we're only in December," the 26-year-old Palmieri said. "When I was young, both teams [the Devils and Rangers] were right at the top there and always competing in the playoffs and all throughout the year. It was just something where you grow up and imagine yourself playing in those games someday and being a part of that rivalry. It's pretty special to be in now."

The Devils and Rangers meet for the third time this season on Thursday night at Prudential Center after splitting two games at Madison Square Garden, the Devils winning 3-2 on Oct. 14 and losing 5-2 on Dec. 9.

It's the third game of a season-high six-game homestand for the Devils.

"Any time two rivals are in a good place in the standings, it makes for good games," said defenseman Steven Santini, 22, who grew up in Mahopac, N.Y. "The players enjoy it and I think the fans enjoy it, too. It creates a lot of excitement. It's definitely good for the area. It's good for the youth hockey development and it's good for everyone involved."

The second-place Devils (19-9-5), who have missed the playoffs the past five seasons, are on a 3-0-1 streak.

The Rangers (19-12-3), in third place at the start of play on Wednesday, have won three straight and are on a 10-3-1 run, righting their season following a 3-7-2 start. The fifth-place Islanders (18-13-3), holding the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot, are in their third season at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. after leaving the outdated Nassau Coliseum. Returning to Long Island is expected to stabilize the franchise.

"It'll be huge," said Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid, who grew up in Smithtown, N.Y. and whose family long attended Islanders' games at Nassau Coliseum. "Brooklyn can be a disaster. Belmont you can drive in just like the Coliseum. I was telling my dad it's like eight more miles. …

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