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Devils' Hughes candid after Rangers loss: 'That's a game really good teams win'

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Jack Hughes gave an honest review of the state of his New Jersey Devils after they fell to the New York Rangers 5-3 on Saturday night.

"I think we're a good hockey team. We're in a rough stretch of hockey right now, including tonight, you know?" Hughes told reporters postgame. "That's a game really good teams win. And we're not there right now, so that’s something that we're going to have to get back to.

"We've done it before. We've just gotta sharpen up, our top guys all the way to the bottom."

The Devils' loss to their Metropolitan rivals dropped them to 8-7-1 on the season and fifth place in their division. New Jersey is now three points behind the Carolina Hurricanes for third place in the Metro and eight points behind the Rangers for the top spot.

Hughes made his return to the lineup on Saturday after missing the previous five contests with an upper-body injury. He found the back of the net less than 10 minutes into an eventful opening frame that saw the Devils and Rangers score two goals apiece.

The matchup remained knotted at 2-2 heading into the third period, but Erik Haula broke the tie in the Devils' favor less than two minutes into the stanza.

It was all Rangers the rest of the way, though, with Artemi Panarin, Jimmy Vesey, and Blake Wheeler each scoring in the last nine minutes of the game to lift New York to its fourth victory in a row.

Devils forward Jesper Bratt said he agreed with Hughes' assessment of their squad.

"Last game versus (the Pittsburgh Penguins), we were in the exact same situation and playing against a team that had won a lot of games in a row," Bratt said, referencing Thursday's 5-2 win against Sidney Crosby and Co. "Last time, we found a way to play a really solid road game and come out with a win. Today, we did the opposite."

He added, "This is kind of a must-win game for us, come out here at home and play against this team and get some momentum - especially a Metro game. These are the games we've got to come out winning in. It sucks."

Saturday's outing was the Devils' first game against the Rangers since the opening round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, where New Jersey prevailed in seven games.

Despite wanting more out of his team, Hughes acknowledged that it's still relatively early in a long season.

"What are we, 16 games in? We've got a lot of runway," he said. "This isn't our final product."

Next up for New Jersey is a clash against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday.

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