Regarding the New Jersey Devils trailing the New York Rangers 2-0 in their first-round series, head coach Lindy Ruff said, “If we win one game, it’s a series.” They did on Saturday. It’s now a series. Akira Schmid, who replaced goaltender Vitek Vanecek, made 35 saves, and Dougie Hamilton scored 11:36 into overtime, lifting the Devils to a 2-1 victory at Madison Square Garden.
The win gives the Devils life, as they’ve sliced the Rangers series lead in half and can pull even with a victory in game four on Monday. All eight series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are at 2-1 through three games.
When the” Snipe heard around Jersey” hit the twine, New Jersey’s message was loud and clear. It’s game on. “We’re back in it,” said an avid Devils fan who played the “inexperience” card after their game one loss but called the team “Petrified” after game two. “Our Penalty kill stepped up big time, and Schmid was phenomenal.” Aside from the change between the pipes, New Jersey adjusted their tactics too.
As a result, the Rangers were forced into making dreaded east-west passes, which either were picked off or didn’t connect. Now it’s on the Blueshirts to counterpunch and respond in game four. “I think there are areas we want to be better at, stuff that we did well the first two games that we have to get back to, but it’s nothing major,” Mika Zibanejad said. “It’s just a few key things for us; get some rest and get ready for Game 4.”
THE CHRIS KREIDER SHOW CONTINUES:
After becoming the first player in NHL history to score four power-play goals in the first two games of a series, Chris Kreider showed he could score at even strength too. He broke the deadlock at 3:39 of the second period, beating Schmid off the rush to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. On the play, Patrick Kane stripped the puck off Ondrej Palat and fed Zibanejad, who found Kreider racing down the left side. The winger did the rest and hit his target for his fifth goal of the series.
HUGHES LIGHTS THE LAMP:
The Devils would respond following a scrum that put them on a controversial power play. Timo Meier landed on Igor Shesterkin. The Rangers netminder responded by punching Meier and was penalized for it, while the instigator got nothing. Meier was everywhere. He tied for the team lead with five shots on Shesterkin, three of which were high-danger chances, blocked a shot, delivered two hits, and recorded two takeaways in 19:24 of ice time.
Artemi Panarin and Kevin Bahl conversed at the other end and were boxed for roughing accordingly. New Jersey wound up with the man advantage and cashed in when Jack Hughes netted his second of the series, tying game three. The tally was a confidence boost for the 21-year-old who, despite scoring on a penalty shot in game one, was charged with five turnovers and didn’t record a point in game two.
“I think there’s no question that Connor Mcdavid wins the Hart Trophy, but I would be surprised if Jack Hughes doesn’t get every second-place vote,” said Wayne Gretzky of the Devils star who set a franchise record with 99 points in the regular season. “He reminds me of me a lot. He went to a different level this year as a hockey player.”
THE POWERLESS PLAY:
After scoring four power-play goals in the first two games, all on Chris Kreider deflections, the Rangers’ man advantage was absent in game three. They went 0 for 5 in game three while only recording six shots, five from Mika Zibanejad.
New Jersey made adjustments and clogged the inside, but the Blueshirts looked stagnant. “I don’t think the puck moved as quick,” Kreider said. “You need to be able to open up those lanes. The puck’s got to move, or bodies have got to move, and I don’t think we did a good enough job of that tonight.”
They did change their 1-3-1 setup with Zibanejad, who had a team-leading 20 power-play goals during the regular season, moving from the bumper to his patented left circle. But the two shots he took from his office were denied by Schmid.
THE SCHMID EFFECT:
The Devils needed a spark and their goaltender delivered. Rookie Akira Schmid, 22, made his playoff debut, replacing Vanecek, who surrendered nine combined goals in the series’ first two games. The 6’5, 205 lbs goaltender used his frame to stymie the Rangers’ attack, forcing them to pick corners and miss the net several times. On the power play, they launched 18 shots, yet only six were on target. Artemi Panarin shook free for nine shot attempts, but seven went wide, including his breakaway effort in the first period.
On other occasions, when the Rangers tried to work from the point to the slot, the Devils overloaded one side and switched from their 2-1-2 to a 1-2-2 defensive setup. “We finally looked like ourselves again,” a Devils fan said.
While New York can thread the needle and convert cross-ice passes as well as anyone, they’re also prone to turnovers. The Rangers ranked 28th in giveaways and 31st in turnover differential during the regular season. But the two games in New Jersey proved different. The Rangers played north-south hockey and forced the Devils into 28 giveaways while only making nine themselves.
Yet in game three, New York had 19 giveaways, including 17 in regulation.
“A little too cute,” Gallant said of their puck management. “If they ended up in the back of the net, I wouldn’t say what I’m saying now. Sometimes a little more direct, make it harder on that younger goaltender.”
That said, the Blueshirts remained disciplined defensively and held the Devils scoreless at even strength in regulation for the third straight game. Hamilton’s goal accounted for New Jersey’s first 5V5 tally of the series. The Rangers took their worst and the Devils’ best to overtime. Igor Shesterkin was sharp in keeping with Schmid and made 26 saves on 28 shots.
“I think it was a combination of them playing better and us not being as sharp.” Barclay Goodrow told the New York Post. “We would’ve loved to win today, but we’re still ahead in the series and have a home game on Monday.” “We played well; they played better,” said Rangers captain Jacob Trouba. “It is what it is. We’ll come back and play game 4.”
BLS FAN COMMENT OF THE NIGHT:
“Too many missed chances. No one stood out, good or bad.
I’m bummed, but- if you told me, lady, Tuesday they would have been up 2-1 after 3 games, I would have been happy.
They need to kick some tail Monday night.