It went to the New Jersey side of the Hudson. The fourth and final meeting between closs rivals was won in the trenches by a more determined bunch of Devils, who hung on for a 2-1 win over the Rangers before 16,669 at The Prudential Center in Newark.
In what amounted to playoff hockey, the Devils were the better team than the Rangers. Playing for the first time in nearly three months, the Hudson rivals battled for 60 minutes. When the final horn sounded, it was the Devils who came out victorious to take a crucial two points.
The difference was the first period. Using their game-breaking speed, the Devils were the aggressor early and often. Following a close call in which a turnover nearly saw Mika Zibanejad set up Vladimir Tarasenko, who was strong throughout, the Devils responded by swarming the net of Igor Shesterkin. He was under siege.
A face-off win from Erik Haula led directly to the checking pivot driving to the Rangers net and tipping in a Dougie Hamilton shot for his 10th at 5:17. On the play, he fell down. Filip Chytil got lost in coverage, leaving Ben Harpur to deal with both Jesper Boqvist and Haula. Haula was able to redirect the Hamilton pass for the game’s first goal. Jonas Siegenthaler added a secondary helper.
Following a Vitek Vanecek stop on Tyler Motte on a rare forechecking shift in the offensive zone, it was the Devils who continued an onslaught of chances due to stronger puck possession. Jack Hughes would get denied on a shot by Shesterkin.
After some hitting from both sides, Shesterkin had to contend with chances from Dawson Mercer and Nico Hischier to keep it a one-goal game. On the next shift, a Jesper Bratt backhand went wide, followed by a long Hamilton shot right on Shesterkin, who got a stoppage.
The action was fast and furious. There weren’t many whistles for a majority of the period. The quick pace favored the Devils, who were able to force some turnovers in the neutral zone. The Rangers had little to no sustained pressure.
Vanecek would stop Patrick Kane from a distance. But it was the more aggressive Devils who continued to push for another goal. A Kaapo Kakko turnover led to Hughes getting a great chance. However, a quick reaching Shesterkin got across to rob him of a sure goal. That was his best save.
Off some more pressure by the Devils, K’Andre Miller got called for taking down Bratt. He was sent off for tripping with over four minutes left in the period.
After not being able to connect right away, the Devils worked a smart passing play to go up by two when Timo Meier buried a Hughes feed in the slot for his first goal in four games. Using Braden Schneider in a two-on-one, Meier passed to Hughes, who passed the puck back for a quick Meier one-timer that beat Shesterkin high for a power play goal with 2:57 remaining.
Vincent Trocheck drew the first of two minor penalties on Haula when he was taken down. Adam Fox came very close to beating Vanecek on a breakaway. Moving in on the Devils starter, he had a backhand go over the top as he collided with Vanecek to stop play. Ryan Graves got away with a trip, which could’ve meant a five-on-three.
Instead, the Devils were able to kill off the remainder of the Haula minor. Vanecek made a save on Panarin. Shesterkin actually had to make two on shorthanded bids from Mercer and Yegor Sharangovich.
The uneven start proved costly. At least the Rangers remembered to show for the last two periods. It took a while for them to gain traction. They needed a couple of key saves from Shesterkin before finally awakening from their malaise. These slow starts remain a problem. If they do face the Devils in the first round, that must change. It can’t only be rely on Shesterkin to bail them out.
As the game moved on, both Mikkola and Miller looked to activate whenever possible. Mikkola played a more aggressive game. Jumping into the rush more than he usually does, he had three shots on goal. He also was physical, finishing checks, and getting involved during scrums. Miller often skated pucks out and carried them in transition in search of offense. He also made some strong defensive recoveries.
A long point shot from Jacob Trouba caught the goalpost. That close to pulling within one. Trouba seeked out a few hits when the opportunity presented itself. The Devils did a good job keeping their heads up.
On an effective shift from the top line, Panarin had a shot denied by Vanecek, who was quite good when called upon. He made 24 saves on 25 shots to earn the game’s Third Star.
With Trouba off for interference on Hischier, the best save Shesterkin made on the power play came when he got a piece of a tough Hughes shot. The Devils’ leading scorer also missed on a tip-in.
Following the successful kill, it was again Trocheck who duped Haula into taking an iffy tripping minor to put the Rangers on the power play.
After a stoppage, a critical mistake by the Devils on the penalty kill allowed Chris Kreider to pull the Rangers within one with 6:36 left. On a clearing attempt from Graves, Sharangovich was unable to chip the puck out. Instead, the sloppy turnover led directly to Mika Zibanejad, feeding Kreider in front for an easy put away at 13:24.
It was his 33rd goal of the season. For Kreider, it also was career goal number 262. That put him in a tie with Vic Hadfield for fifth on the all-time franchise goal scoring list. Next up is Hall Of Famer Andy Bathgate. He’s fourth all-time with 272 goals. Kreider should tie and pass him next season.
With the game very tight, each side created chances. On one end, Shesterkin made a tough save on an Ondrej Palat tip-in. On the other side, Vanecek denied a Panarin backhand in tight. Then, Shesterkin stood tall to stop Hischier.
It was a good game. Once the Rangers found their skating legs, it was even. Something Gerard Gallant mentioned during the postgame. He again repeated himself about the slow start. But he liked the remaining two periods.
There also were some scrums. Something you’d expect with the stakes so high. The teams got shots in, but cooler heads prevailed. It was fought hard.
Vanecek made a good save on a Filip Chytil chance late in the period. His line wasn’t as noticeable. They were a little better in the second period. But they didn’t forecheck enough to create the chances we’ve seen. Part of that was how the Devils defended. They also attacked when they could.
The third was hotly contested. The Devils did a solid job limiting the Rangers to the outside. It wasn’t easy to get inside. Especially when Graves and Marino were out.
Shesterkin made some key saves on Tatar and Hamilton. On the opposite end, Vanecek stood tall on Tarasenko, who was arguably the best Rangers skater. He was around the puck a lot. If they drew even, I thought he would be involved.
That didn’t prevent Vanecek from making stops on Kane and then taking away a goal from Trocheck, who thought he had one in front. Vanecek made 10 saves in the period.
Shesterkin had to deal with a tricky attempt from McLeod, whose high offering gave him trouble. However, he stuck with it.
With time winding down, some Devil pressure by the Hischier line led to a long Graves’ shot hitting the outside of the far goalpost. It looked like it was headed in.
With Shesterkin on the bench for an extra attacker, Fox had a tough wrist shot blockered away by Vanecek. With over a minute left, Kreider was stopped twice.
On what looked like the potential tying goal, a loose puck bounced right to Tarasenko in front. It would’ve been a tap in. Instead, Graves dove and blocked the shot and cleared the puck away. It was a game saver.
Panarin got a great opportunity with less than 30 seconds remaining. However, his slap shot missed the intended target. He waited too long and missed short side high.
Astonishingly, the Blueshirts got one final shot. Following an icing, Trocheck beat Haula on a face-off. Alexis Lafreniere was able to step into a last second shot that went wide as the buzzer sounded. It was too tough an angle. Had it hit the net, it would’ve counted.
The Devils earned the win by beating the Rangers in the kind of game you’ll see when the playoffs start in two and a half weeks. The question is, where will they be. Combined with the Hurricanes losing to the Red Wings 3-2, they trail first place by a point. Carolina has a game in hand.
For the Rangers, it was a missed opportunity. This game didn’t hurt them too much. They remain locked into third, trailing the Devils by four. However, it wasn’t their best game. They need to start faster.
There’s no time to dwell on it. The Rangers now visit the Sabres tonight. Devon Levi makes his NHL debut. Win and the pressure is back on the teams ahead of them. It’ll likely be Jaroslav Halak.
Yeah I still think we’re getting this series but the last 48 hours really put the division back in play with Carolina losing twice in regulation. It was electric, seemed the crowd was more pro-Devils than the first game, though it was easier for our fans to get off on the front foot this game than in early January when we fell behind. I was really worried we’d get the fourth straight game of a team blowing a two-goal lead this season, time literally stood still for a second on that Graves play (which I had a birds eye view of in 120) lol
It was a great game. But the Rangers continue to have bad starts. That can’t happen. They no-showed the first period versus Buffalo. Devon Levi only faced 2 shots. Lucky it was the Sabres. They got a point. Kane has not made a difference. He looks slow and never back checks. We’ll see if he flips the switch. Tarasenko has been more noticeable. He was very good in that Devils game. He was my pick to tie it. Took Graves hustle to prevent it.
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