It occurs to me that international NHL fans in particular know where New York is but might not fully comprehend just how crowded the U.S. eastern seaboard is. Fans invade each other's turf not only because they're passionate, mobile freaks with disposable income to burn, but also because it's just so accessible (traffic/toll caveats notwithstanding).
You might think the United Sates is a sprawled, dispersed continent-wide monstrosity, and you'd be right: The poor Avalanche (Denver) and Dallas Stars are, in NHL terms, lengthy full-day drives (at best) from the nearest divisional rival. There are stunning natural wonders between those two and the West Coast that are excellent for reflection but not so good for hockey, nor for interacting with people.
Yet the congested Northeast is a different matter, an island chain of reachable rivals from Boston down to D.C. to even Raleigh (Hurricanes). It is in this context that the Philadelphia Flyers count many New Jersey residents among their fanbase. It is in this context that, when the Devils finally got Lou Lamoriello to accept that maybe marketing isn't a sin, they went with emphasizing the Devils as New Jersey's team.
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This approach is reasonable not simply because the only other "New Jersey" branded major sports team is fleeing Newark to some arena in Brooklyn (perhaps you've heard of it?), but also because the Devils, who landed in 1982 as the former Colorado Rockies (and before that, the Kansas City Scouts), see untapped regions to broaden their fanbase.
The Internet age helps us realize and enjoy just how much transplanted fans can keep up with their teams -- on this site we have Long Island-native Islanders fans whose best chance to see them in Buffalo or Washington or Chicago or Detroit or L.A. It also helps distant fans keep in touch.
Part of the Devils' marketing approach has been a major social media approach, which can help break down distance barriers and, in theory, appeal to tribalism to keep Flyers fans out of the barn. The fact is for a large chunk of New Jersey, the Flyers are the closest NHL team. (And indeed, the Devils arena in Newark, N.J., is closer to two New York NHL arenas than to much of its own state.) The Flyers have history -- and marketing -- on their side; a reputation they've cultivated over the years despite going Cupless since 1975. Over time, and targeting the young and impressionable as much as possible, the Devils need to make sure that proximity is not the deciding factor.
Like any collection of nearly 9 million people, New Jersey is more complex than what is easily captured via sweeping generalizations about fans of an often boring but successful hockey team. (For just a taste of regional stereotypes, have fun with this map.)
The Flyers and Devils are fairly frequent playoff foes since the Devils became relevant. Two of the Devils' three Cups were won after beating the Flyers in the Cup semifinals. (The latter effectively ended Eric Lindros' career.) The Flyers' last trip to the finals, in 2010 (when the Devils marketing approach was finally growing up), included a steamrolling of the higher-seeded Devils.
There is a history there that forms the pride and scars of longtime fans, but always -- as Islanders and Rangers fans know well -- there is also the backdrop of winning new loyalties among the young and the bandwagon set.
Rather than go into redundant previews (you can find decent ones at NHL.com | Broad Street Hockey | In Lou We Trust | Puck Daddy), I thought I'd have some fun with the marketing side of this rivalry. The Devils want to be "New Jersey's Team" for future generations. To say nothing of the playoff stakes in play, encounters like this with a regional rival matter in that effort.
As we've done with each playoff series (make your picks for Coyotes-Hawks here, Rangers- here, - here), vote who you think will win in the poll. If you like, also offer elaboration on who you'd prefer win in comments:
Heart Says: I find neither result is tolerable. Hope it goes seven games.
Head Says: Flyers in six. Though Ilya Bryzgalov might make it go seven.
Flyers vs. Devils: Who you got, and in how many?