The New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers sit behind the division-leading Carolina Hurricanes but both teams have built more formidable playoff rosters, especially with the moves they have made ahead of the league’s March 3 trade deadline.
The Hurricanes have been atop the division since Dec. 20 and finished in first last season but have struggled to make deep runs in the playoffs. In the 2021 playoffs, they were bounced in the second round by Tampa Bay in five games, and next year they were bounced by the Rangers in the same round in seven games.
Both of the teams behind Carolina are strong in at least one of the areas where the Hurricanes have historically lacked and have bolstered their lineups at the deadline.
On Sunday, the Devils acquired forward Timo Meier from the San Jose Sharks for a blockbuster package of players, prospects and picks.
Meier, 26, joins stars like Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier on an explosive and young Devils roster looking to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2017-18 season. Meier was the top name on the trade market this season and, to add insult to injury, was strongly tied to Carolina prior to the trade to New Jersey.
Earlier this month, the New York Rangers brought in forward Vladimir Tarasenko from the St. Louis Cardinals. Louis Blues and are expected to trade for Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane closer to the deadline. The addition of two all-time snipers to an already-loaded front end that includes Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin gives New York much-needed scoring depth going into the playoffs.
The Rangers also have reigning Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin between the pipes. Shesterkin has struggled of late but is still among the league leaders in wins, goals saved above expected and wins above replacement.
With the current NHL playoff format, the Hurricanes could avoid the Devils and Rangers in the first round if they hold on and win the division but would have to face the winner of the New York-New Jersey series in the second round. That could spell trouble for Carolina.
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