Rangers take Game One with a strong effort to bedevil Devils 5-1, lead series 1-0

Tonight, the Rangers taught the Devils a playoff lesson. Ready from the beginning of this seventh installment of the Battle of Hudson, they skated, scored, checked diligently, and got better goaltending to take Game One over the Devils, 5-1 before 16,514 at The Prudential Center in Newark.

Playing their first postseason game in five years, the Devils were outclassed by the more experienced Rangers. They won the battle of special teams by a significant margin. While the Devils couldn’t even muster a shot on Igor Shesterkin in four attempts, the Rangers went 2 for 3 on thanks to identical power play goals from the game’s first star, Chris Kreider.

That was established very early in Game One. Vincent Trocheck reached in and tripped up Jonas Siegenthaler behind the Devils net to go off for tripping 75 seconds in. He was bailed out by a strong penalty kill work from his teammates.

The four-man Rangers shorthanded unit outworked the Devils five-man unit. When they did get opportunities, they missed the net. Jack Hughes went high and wide twice. Dougie Hamilton also shot over the top. A big part of it was how well the Blueshirts defended the middle of the ice. They took passing seams away and kept their rivals to the perimeter.

It was the work of Barclay Goodrow that was noticeable during the first period when the Rangers were penalized three different times. He was making key defensive plays, blocking shots (3), and winning face-offs (7-for-11). When he wasn’t, he was closing in on attacking Devils to make it difficult.

While the home team struggled in front of a boisterous crowd that was mixed in with both Devils and Rangers fans, they were having trouble getting anything going. On a rare forecheck by the BMW Line, Trocheck made a key clear after he came on for Filip Chytil. That allowed the second line to transition up ice to get the first goal of the series.

Artemi Panarin made a pass across for K’Andre Miller. With the Devils in full scramble mode, he made a good pass for Vladimir Tarasenko in the right circle. He then patiently moved around Siegenthaler and rifled a snapshot by Vitek Vanecek for his first of the postseason at 4:58. That was the 42nd of his career. The first 41 came with the Blues, including 11 during their run to the Stanley Cup in 2019.

Following the goal, Adam Fox got called for a weak hold on Jesper Bratt. He mildly protested as he went to the box. But it was again the aggressive penalty killing unit that dominated. In fact, before the Devils got a shot on Shesterkin, Mika Zibanejad tested Vanecek shorthanded but was denied.

When they did attempt shots, they missed the target. Nico Hischier had a tip-in go wide. He then absorbed a tough hit from Ryan Lindgren, who played well. He even later scored his third career postseason goal. The Devils did a lot of retreating on their second power failure. I don’t think PSE&G sponsored it. That’s how out of sync it was.

By the time Tomas Tatar got a shot on Shesterkin, which he easily handled, over eight minutes had expired. It took the Devils 8:14 to register their first shot. They didn’t have much going. That’s how bottled up they were by a determined Blueshirts, who were disciplined defensively.

The Rangers came very close to making it a two-goal lead. After spending some time in the Devils end, Trocheck had a point blank shot stopped by Vanecek. With some chaos in front, he was completely down and out. Lindgren fired what looked like the second goal. But his shot rang off the crossbar. Vanecek then somehow stoned Panarin on a rebound.

In the postseason, penalties are magnified. Particularly when they’re in the offensive zone. Miles Wood got nabbed for reaching in and grabbing Panarin. That put the Rangers on their first power play. They couldn’t have drawn it up any better.

Off a face-off, Fox and Panarin played catch. Then Fox got the puck up top and took a wrist shot that Kreider easily tipped in for his first of the game at 9:30 to make it 2-0.

The goal allowed him to pass Rangers legend Rod Gilbert for the most postseason goals in franchise history. It was his 35th as a Ranger. When he later added another on what else but another power play redirect, Kreider didn’t have anything to say about the achievement. Instead, he focused on getting Game Two, which he called very tough. Team guy.

At one point, the Rangers led in shots 8-1. They were the harder team. The attention to detail was evident. By limiting what the faster Devils like to do in transition, they made it difficult.

Hughes struggled for most of his first postseason game with turnovers. He had five giveaways. That was mostly due to forcing passes through the middle. It’s the same East West style that can plague Panarin when he’s not simplifying the game. He also took some hits from the Rangers defense. During a shift, he delivered one of his own on Kreider, who easily absorbed it. He’s much stronger.

Despite being in control, the Rangers let the Devils hang around. They began to find their game in the second half of the first period. Following a couple of blocks by Tyler Motte, Erik Haula got a shot right on Shesterkin. The gritty center was noticeable throughout. He mixed it up by delivering four hits. He plays with energy and at times is used by Lindy Ruff to take draws for Hughes. However, he had a good night in the circle, finishing 7 and 7.

Nico Hischier woke up the Devils contingent with some aggressive play to generate quality scoring chances. During a strong shift, he was stopped twice by a sharp Shesterkin. He was their best player by a wide margin. For the game, he finished with five shots in eight attempts and had three takeaways.

His work created more opportunities for teammates. But both Damon Severson and Dawson Mercer went wide. Hischier tested Shesterkin again, but he continued to make the key stops.

Following Filip Chytil having a shot blocked by Severson, Mike McLeod was stopped by Shesterkin with over two minutes left. His line with Miles Wood and Nathan Bastian was active. They were more effective than some of the star talent, including Timo Meier, who was pretty quiet for most of the night. Meier would draw a questionable, high-sticking minor on a frustrated Braden Schneider.

It was again the Rangers penalty kill that got the job done. Kreider made sure to hit Hughes on the Devils’ third power play. Jacob Trouba also let Meier know he was there. He picked his spots during the game.

Despite holding a 10-7 edge in shots, the Rangers had to know the Devils were coming. They definitely weren’t the same during the first half of the second period. It was the home team that adjusted their style. Taking away the neutral zone, they began to tilt the ice.

For a while, it was the Devils forcing turnovers and carrying the action. Following a couple of early shots from Haula and Jesper Boqvist, the physicality picked up. More on their heels, the Rangers finished checks.

That included Alexis Lafreniere, who had a couple of good hits. Although he didn’t get on the score sheet, the former top pick was noticeable throughout. He had a good takeaway on Hughes and was strong. So, too, were 21 and over Kid Line mates Chytil and Kaapo Kakko.

On another shift, Hischier almost broke through. But he had his backhand denied by Shesterkin. He later missed a golden opportunity over the top.

The Devils continued to have the edge in territorial play. Although they were outplayed, the Rangers still did a solid job minimizing the high danger chances. Shesterkin made his biggest saves on Tatar and later Hughes, who stripped Schneider and then flew by Niko Mikkola to get in. But Shesterkin calmly made the big save.

At around the midway point, the period shifted. Following a big kick save from Vanecek to deny Motte off a Jimmy Vesey pass, in came Hughes on Shesterkin. But he wasn’t about to let the 21-year old center score. That was a big moment. It came with 7:28 remaining in the second. If Hughes scores there, everything could’ve changed. Shesterkin made 27 saves on 28 shots. That was his best.

With under six minutes left, Haula grabbed Chytil for one of those bad offensive zone penalties. Luckily, the Devils bailed him out. They also had the benefit of having a Lafreniere goal on a double deflection overturned. On a Trouba one-timer, first Chytil deflected it followed by Lafreniere, whose stick was just above crossbar height. They made the right call.

After the power play expired, Gerard Gallant made a wise decision by keeping the Kid Line out at even strength. The move paid off. Following a Chytil hit on John Marino, he helped set up a huge third goal from an unlikely source.

Chytil moved the puck up for Fox, who was exceptional in Game One, tallying four assists. Up top, he waited for Lindgren to cut towards the net. After receiving a pass from his defense partner, Lindgren waited at the very last moment to catch Vanecek just off his near goalpost. He fired a perfect shot high, short side inside the bar for his third career postseason goal to give the Blueshirts a three-goal lead with 3:03 left.

Seeing the glue of the team score was great. Lindgren provides so much for the team. He always will lay out to block shots at his own risk. He’s the definition of an unselfish player. It was nice to see him get rewarded after coming so close in the first period. Teammates were extremely happy for him.

It really was a huge goal that made it tough on the Devils. They’re known for being a great comeback team. But it’s harder to do in the playoffs when the ice becomes smaller. It’ll be interesting to see what adjustments they make for Game Two.

Subbing for Goodrow on a face-off, Motte proved why he doesn’t take them. He illegally won the draw by putting his glove over the puck and moving it back. That was an automatic delay of game minor. Like Bill Murray’s Phil character in Groundhog Day, the Devils failed miserably. I imagine Hasan will have more on that and what they did wrong.

In the third, the Devils had more shots. As expected, they held a 13-5 edge. However, nothing was getting by Shesterkin. He denied a Meier backhand early to preserve the three-goal lead.

With not much going right, Ruff tweaked his lines. Hughes had Palat on the left side with Bratt. Hischier would eventually have Meier on his line with Mercer. For most of the game, Meier was on the third line with Haula and Boqvist. That’s not the best way to utilize him. He’s a high volume shooter. He has to play in the top six for the Devils to be successful.

Although the Devils had more shots, not many threatened Shesterkin, who really deserved a shutout. It wasn’t to be.

When he needed a spark, Gallant went to Chytil, Lafreniere, and Kakko. They continued to be solid on the walls. When the game was played at five-on-five, it was that cohesive unit that got the puck in and cycled. That’s what they did so well last year and over the second half of the regular season.

Ryan Graves came close to getting the Devils on the board. But he had his long shot go off the goalpost. Shesterkin then stuffed Nathan Bastian on a wrap-around. He’d also make another save on Hughes, who improved his play in the latter stages.

A scrum that involved Severson giving Goodrow a shot nearly led to chaos. When Goodrow got up and asked him to go, he declined the fight. During that scrum, McLeod was given the only penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, which was drawn by Motte.

Back on the man-advantage, the Blueshirts made short work of the gift. On a Patrick Kane (yes, he played) pass up top for Fox, he again sent one of those shots towards the front. Kreider was again parked in front, where he easily redirected the puck in for his 36th postseason goal. That put the game out of reach.

When you watch Kreider make those tip-ins, he makes it look easy. It isn’t. It’s a skill he works hard on in practices. There are other players who are just as good. But Kreider is probably the best net front player in the league. That’s why he’s scoring more.

With the first game basically over, the only question is, would Shesterkin get the shutout. Unfortunately, Hughes stole a puck and broke in on him. Trouba slashed him just enough from behind for the officials to reward him with a penalty shot. Even if I didn’t think it was a great call, it took away a scoring chance.

One on one, Hughes cooly skated in, faked, and then found enough real estate to beat Shesterkin with a great shot that went low inside the net. There wasn’t much room. He had a window and made it for his first career postseason goal. It was a skilled play.

Hughes’ goal came with 2:46 left in regulation. That meant Ruff lifted Vanecek for an extra attacker. Gallant decided to give his best line the assignment. That meant Chytil, Kakko, and Lafreniere. They were that good. After Fox made a defensive play to move the puck up to Kakko, he got the puck up for Chytil. He gained the red line and made no mistake scoring his first into the vacated net.

That closed the book on this game. The first chapter will show that the Rangers were the much better team. Their grit and experience showed. Now, it’s on to Game Two. The Devils should be more desperate. As Kreider noted about getting the second game in enemy territory, it should be harder.

This was a good start. Now, we find out if the Jersey side can respond. Considering what’s been happening so far in the first days of these playoffs with road teams having success, including both the Jets and Kraken winning along with the Lightning reminding the Maple Leafs that it’s the postseason, you never know.

Did anyone actually believe the Kings would come back to stun the Oilers on the first night? Road teams are 6-2 so far, with only the Bruins and Hurricanes winning Game One at home. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are different. Home ice isn’t the same advantage it used to be. It should make for some compelling Game Two’s.

For the game’s three Stars, I could’ve selected a number of players. I decided to go with the three Rangers who impacted Game One. No Fox or Lindgren.

Notes: The Devils out-shot the Rangers 28-23 overall. But the Rangers went 2 for 3 on the power play on four shots. The Devils went 0 for 4 with no shots while allowing three shorthanded shots. At five-on-five, that favored the Devils 28-16. … Vanecek finished with 18 saves on 22 shots. If he struggles early in the second game, don’t be surprised to see Akira Schmid. He was the backup over Mackenzie Blackwood for last night.


Total Attempts: Devils 67 Rangers 45

Hits: Rangers 32 (Trouba/Vesey 4)

Devils 30 (Meier 5)

Blocks: NYR 23 (Fox 4) NJD 12 (Graves 3)

Face-offs: NJD 35 (McLeod 9-2) NYR 32 (Chytil 10-3)

Giveaways: Devils 13 (Hughes 5) Rangers 3


About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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