As much as part of me wants to vent about Game 6 and the Devils being blown up for the third time in this series, their sloppy penalties and play in the last two periods or about the NHL refs’ obvious game management last night (specifically giving the Rangers all the power plays when we dominated the first period, then giving us all the power plays after we fell behind) – to paraphrase a legendary, taciturn coach…we’re on to Newark. And we’re on to Game 7 as well, the first one for the Devils since Adam Henrique’s first series-winning goal of the 2012 postseason a little more than eleven years ago, while it’s the third Game 7 for the Rangers just in the last two seasons.
Amazingly, as the opening Tweet above points out this is the first time the Devils and Rangers have met in a Game 7 since that titanic 1994 series and the third time overall (1992 being the other). We’ve met several times in the playoffs since then, but I don’t really need to go through those series too much…our shocking five-game exit in 1997 during the second round was the least memorable of the rivalry by far, while our 2006 four-game destruction in the first round was the most one-sided series. Our five-game home exit in 2008 in the playoffs was predictably anticlimactic after a season where the Rangers beat us 11 of 13 times. Then came 2012’s Conference Finals, another great series that happened to only go six games.
In fact, you can make the argument that series was better than this year’s series, despite the fact we’re going to Game 7 this time. For a seven-game series that a lot of people (including both me and Derek) predicted would go the distance before a puck was dropped and a series between two teams who only finished five points apart in the regular season, the actual hockey itself has been anything but predictable given the fact the first four games were all won by the road team. Not to mention four of the six games have been blowouts, including all three Ranger wins. Even though we both got the number of games right and one of us is obviously going to get the end result correct, if you’ve watched or paid attention to the first six games of this series and think you can predict what’s going happen in Game 7 then you’re quite simply certifiable.
Perhaps the only good thing about last night’s game is the Devils simply blew a 1-0 lead, rather than the 2-0 lead of 1994 infamy – a fact the ESPN crew would have no doubt liked to remind us of (and probably did anyway). I had it muted with the Devils’ radio telecast on last night, clearly that didn’t work in terms of mojo. At least I won’t have to worry about Ray Ferraro laughing at us giving up a goal tomorrow, though the 8 PM start time in itself is annoying – particularly with the very real possibility of overtime and having to take the train schedule into account the longer the game goes. Because of this, I’m going to indulge myself in a mini rant for the next couple of paragraphs.
I’d gladly drive into Newark except my car can’t handle long periods of start and stop driving at the moment. I could use a work car, but admittedly I’m kind of glad I’m taking the train at this point given the predictable price gouging going on around the arena (and the fact traffic going out of the arena will be predictably bad if you have everyone leaving at the same time). My normal lot a few blocks away – which was $10 during the regular season – is $30 now during this series, and they’re hardly an outlier in inflated prices. Conversely, round-trip forty minutes on the train is only about $14.
If you’re going by yourself as I have been this year, the math is pretty clear. Even going with one other person, the cost would be similar. It’s just that taking the train is more time-consuming since you’re on NJ Transit’s schedule, plus from where I go the train only takes you to Broad Street station. You still need to either walk the twenty minutes up Broad Street to get to the arena or find a bus to lessen that part of the trip. My tradeoff for not having to worry about driving, or lot price gouging is the fact I may not necessarily be able to stay for a multiple-OT thriller. By my unofficial calculation, the second OT intermission would be my drop-dead time since the last train back to Madison is 1:15 AM, and I’d obviously have to leave the arena a bit before then to make it back to Broad Street. I have no intention of being stuck in Newark for five hours overnight and getting no sleep at all, or in paying for an Uber that would be ridiculously expensive and ridiculously stuck in traffic. Nor am I going to chance hoping there’s a room available at the hotel near the arena and overpaying for that just to have a safe spot for four hours. If it comes to it, I’m bringing my earbuds and listening to a third OT on the ride home.
Truth be told, marathon OT’s are great when you’re in the comfort of home and don’t have to worry about anything else once the game ends, but not so great for the attending audience if you still have to drive or take the train home. Especially on a weeknight where the game starts at 8 PM. Obviously, the NHL’s going to cater to the TV audience over the fans at the arena, since the game will be a sellout whatever time they do put it on. Yes, I’m a grouchy middle-aged man and won’t really care what time the game ends or whether I’m still in the building by then if the Devils win, and if the Rangers win I won’t care too much if I manage to hit the early train back and get home at midnight, other than being glad I didn’t have to waste another two sleepless hours in the building.
Anyhoo, I’d originally intended for this blog to be a look back at Game 7’s past, especially since we haven’t had a whole lot of them. I’ve only been at two personally, and it’s basically a heaven and hell comparison between our 2003 Cup clincher against the Ducks, and the 2009 meltdown against Carolina in the first round. Despite our run of success as a franchise, we really haven’t had a lot of home Game 7’s over the years. Ironically, the home Game 7 I remember the least (1994’s first round against the Sabres) is pretty comparable to this year in terms of a goaltending matchup with a young rookie named Brodeur going save-for save with the great Dominik Hasek.
There was also that 1999 meltdown against the Penguins, literally the only thing I remember about that game was Brodeur making a staggering save on a two-on-zero, but then getting scored on anyway later that sequence when the vaunted Devils’ D was nowhere to be found. Personally, I’m hoping for a 2001 against the Leafs repeat, a nice easy 5-1 win – albeit that game was 0-1 in the middle of the second period before the Devils exploded after that. That’s likely unrealistic but with this series and its wild swings of momentum from nowhere, who knows?
I don’t really have much interest in previewing the game itself since as I said in the open, how can you watch this whole series and think you have any idea how this game is going to turn out? I don’t like how things are trending with Igor Shesterkin getting hot and the Ranger scorers starting to heat up while ours are still ice-cold and we’re still taking dumb offensive zone penalties. Game 7 is Game 7 though, all it takes is one win at this point and objectively we were the better team this year, given we finished ahead in the standings and took seven of a possible eight points head-to-head from the Rangers, but none of that means any more than the Rangers’ recent past in Game 7’s as a wise man once said not that long ago:
Little surprise that Haula’s been among the best Devils in the first six games, and really over the last month plus as a whole. That’ll likely have to change if the Devils are going to pump more than two goals past Shesterkin for only the second time in the series. If the Devils don’t win this series, the lack of scoring from guys like Timo Meier, Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier will become an even bigger story, especially with the first two wanting lucrative long-term deals this offseason. Holding them to under two and trying to win 2-1 or 3-1 again is going to be a big ask, now that they possibly solved Akira Schmid in Game 6 to the tune of five goals and a late pull. Still, you have to go back to Schmid in Game 7. I love Vitek Vanecek and everything he did for us in the regular season, but Schmid and his great play three games in a row is the biggest reason we’re still sitting here with a chance after going down 0-2 with most of our stars firing blanks.
I’ll have to conclude on this note – especially since if this series ends the wrong way I may not feel like writing a post-mortem for the next couple days or so – whatever happens tomorrow shouldn’t take away anything from this Devils season on the whole. Not now that they actually made it a series and can legitimately learn something from it besides getting the butt kicking they got in 2018, or seemingly were in for after the first two games this series. Yes, it would be disappointing to lose to the Rangers, especially on home ice but a deep playoff run was beyond anyone’s realm of expectations in October 2022 after the first two losses of the season. Our goal then was to at least be relevant in April again, nothing more than that.
In the end, this team brought hope back to a fanbase beaten down by a decade of almost total irrelevance – one fluke, quick playoff exit surrounded by seventh and eighth-place finishes where the season was over by January and we were crunching lottery odds after the holidays. Besides injecting true belief back into people who’d become jaded by seemingly endless losing like me, the organization’s put itself into a position where they should be a force for the next several years. A young, talented core with cap space and more key prospects on the come has the Devils uniquely poised to cement a place in the league’s elite and stay there for years going forward. I know there’s always a possibility that won’t happen, there are issues that need to be addressed but that isn’t today’s concern or even Tuesday’s concern.
This organization, starting with GM Tom Fitzgerald has earned the benefit of the doubt going forward, whatever changes have to be inevitably made in the future. And this team on the ice deserves our belief tomorrow night after everything they’ve done all year – all the comebacks, the thirteen-game winning streak, setting a franchise record for wins and more recently coming back from 0-2 in this series. Maybe we won’t get it done in the end, but now’s not the time to think about the worst-case scenario and who to blame or how unfair it is our dream season could be spoiled by our biggest rivals. Now’s the time for one word and one word only…
Excellent read. The late start time doesn’t take into account the fans who attend these games. They should’ve made it 7:30 the latest.
I feel like the Devils are playing with house money. Who would’ve thought they’d be here? After how the series started. It’s been unpredictable. So yeah. I’m not overconfident. Just wondering what will happen.
Enjoy the game. Good luck.
Hasan, congratulations. Your team played a great game. They were all over the Rangers. The Devils deserve it. Their speed and relentless relentless play was the difference. They defended the house well.
It not for Shesterkin, my God. And the refs were atrocious. I hope Meier is okay. Trouba definitely went high. If it were 2000, that’s legal. That’s an illegal check to the head.
Enjoy it. Good luck next round.
I’ll take a day to do a column.
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