It was a nightmare finish. The doomsday scenario played out. In what can best be described as Seventh Hell, the Rangers suffered a lopsided 4-0 shutout loss to the Devils in Game Seven that really felt anticlimactic.
Instead, it’ll be the Devils who advance to play the Hurricanes in the second round. They’ll have a quick turnaround with Game One Wednesday at Raleigh.
That’s how the whole series was. There was no such thing as momentum in the seventh installment of the Battle of Hudson. Simply put, everything they did well in Game Six they did wrong in the seventh and deciding game.
They never could establish a consistent forecheck against a disciplined Devils defense that was better. They took away the middle of the ice to make it easier on rookie Akira Schmid, whose 31 save shutout was the second of the series. Although he was good at stopping Mika Zibanejad twice, Alexis Lafreniere and Vincent Trocheck, there was too much one and done.
They made it too easy on Schmid, who was the series MVP. He won four of five starts, allowing only seven goals on 142 shots. That translates to a 1.38 GAA and .951 save percentage. In the four wins, he gave up just two goals. The only game the Rangers solved him in was when they got five past him to take Game Six. They were abysmal in the other four games.
While it’s easy to point to Schmid’s performance, a lot of credit must go to how well the Devils played. They attacked the Rangers with their superior speed in all three zones and protected the house. Their defensive adjustments following a pair of 5-1 blowout defeats in the first two games was the biggest reason for the turnaround.
Lindy Ruff pushed the right buttons. He out-coached Gerard Gallant, who kept trying to find the right combinations. But his team never adjusted well enough to win the series. They were exposed defensively by a much more aggressive team that was better than most wanted to admit. They weren’t “soft.” But the opposite. Look how much more they pinned the Rangers in and bullied them. It was a bad match-up.
While some of the blame was put on Gallant by both Henrik Lundqvist and Steve Valiquette on MSG following the embarrassing defeat, the truth is that it falls on the players. They’re the ones who didn’t execute in blowing a series they led two games to none. There were too many passengers. Not enough key players stepped up. That, along with special teams, actually cost them last night.
By losing in disappointing fashion to their bitter rivals in the first round, it put to rest the notion that you can win on talent alone. As Gallant said in his postgame, talent alone can only get you so far. To be successful in the postseason, you need more grit and forecheck to win at this time of year. Along with a slow defense that got exposed, they were lucky to even be in the game.
If not for some brilliant saves from the unflappable Igor Shesterkin, who sure deserves better than what he got, it would’ve been a blowout. The Devils easily could’ve had six or seven goals. It really wasn’t close. He might’ve only finished with 20 saves on 23 shots, but that was misleading. He turned away high danger chances most of the night. He really was hung out to dry.
It reminded me of some of the series Lundqvist had. He was the best player. But the Rangers did the same thing to Shesterkin that they had to Lundqvist, who heard the sad comparison from former backup Valiquette. He certainly can relate.
Here’s a sobering thought. In two playoffs, Shesterkin has a record of 13-14 with a 2.45 GAA and .929 save percentage. For his brilliant career, Lundqvist also had a losing record – finishing 61-67 with a 2.30 GAA and .921 save percentage. That right there is depressing. Even worse, Shesterkin finished the seven-game series with a 1.96 GAA and .931 save percentage.
If it wasn’t for the goalie and power play, this series would’ve been over much sooner. That’s how bad the Rangers were at even strength. They were outchanced, outplayed, and out-hustled by a hungrier team. If the younger Devils are already winning now, what does that mean for the future of the rivalry?
The Rangers organization really needs to do a lot of soul searching. They bought into acquiring Patrick Kane after adding Vladimir Tarasenko. It didn’t work. Kane never really fit in. He certainly tried. But whether it was the hip, which probably requires surgery, or unable to find chemistry, that experiment wasn’t successful. It failed to produce what management envisioned. The box office draw doesn’t always mean better.
As for the game, the Rangers looked as flat as they were in Game Five. The Devils came out loose. They took it to their close rivals by getting six of the first seven shots. They also led in attempts 14-1, not even eight minutes in.
Ruff made two changes to his lineup. He reinserted Miles Wood on the fourth line. He replaced the effective Curtis Lazar, who scored a goal the other night. Wood was back with line mates Mike McLeod and Nathan Bastian. Yegor Sharangovich played on a new third line in place of Jesper Boqvist. Ruff opted to move Dawson Mercer to the middle to center Timo Meier and Sharangovich.
By doing that, he moved Tomas Tatar up to the top line with Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt. Jack Hughes was again between Ondrej Palat and Erik Haula. That was the only line that stayed the same. Ever since he moved Haula onto that line with Palat, they were much more effective. That was one of the biggest adjustments in the series.
What transpired was stunning. But before the Devils got started, the opening face-off nearly led to the game’s first goal. On a subtle play by Mika Zibanejad, he took the puck away. That quickly, he had Chris Kreider on a two-on-one. But John Marino broke it up. That key defensive play was huge. If the Rangers score there, they could’ve grabbed the momentum.
Following that close call, the Devils began to pressure the Rangers in their end. Both Ryan Graves and Dougie Hamilton had shots go over the net. They continued to miss wide with both Haula and Meier unable to connect. Their aggressiveness included defensenen pinching in. The Rangers didn’t do a good enough job chipping pucks out. If they had, maybe it’s a different game.
After a McLeod hit on Niko Mikkola, who had the first shot of the game, Bastian collided with Tyler Motte, knocking him down. Their skates came together. Wes McCauley and partner Gord Dwyer decided it was a tripping minor. It looked incidental. Bastian was unhappy with the call. That wouldn’t be the only time the Devils disagreed with the refs.
Before they could really get going on their first power play, Adam Fox took a poor angle to Hischier, who cut in for a shorthanded bid that was stopped by Shesterkin. He was called for holding 34 seconds into the five-on-four. It was part of an awful night for the Rangers’ best defenseman. He was far from alone.
During the four-on-four, K’Andre Miller lost a puck that allowed the dangerous Hughes to try a wrap-around that Shesterkin shut down. A couple of shifts later, Hischier had a redirect stopped. That was part of their strategy. They made it difficult for Shesterkin. He really was locked in.
A Kane turnover led to more Devils attack time. It was frustrating to watch. You had the Rangers losing puck battles in their zone. Kaapo Kakko avoided a hit during a passive shift that summed up how poorly they played.
The Devils continued to dominate puck possession at even strength. When he wasn’t making saves in a period that didn’t have many shots due to both teams missing the net, along with plenty of blocked shots, Shesterkin tried to help his struggling team by playing the puck. Something he did during the series.
As they kept the pressure on, the Devils had to be getting frustrated. They created a lot of chances early but had nothing to show for it. To their credit, the Rangers blocked shots and finished checks. At least they did that to help out the goalie.
The period turned when Damon Severson took down Motte. That penalty was made possible by the second effort of Jimmy Vesey. He was able to push the puck forward in the Devils zone, allowing Motte to beat Severson, who went off for tripping.
It was on the second power play that the Rangers came close. Zibanejad just missed wide on a high labeled shot. Then, Fox skated behind the net and found Vladimir Tarasenko wide open in the slot. But his slap shot just missed. As the power play was expiring, Zibanejad was all set up in the left circle. But Schmid made a good glove save to keep it scoreless.
The Devils continued to put themselves at risk. Kevin Bahl threw a puck directly out without any pressure on him for a delay of game minor. That gave the Rangers their third straight power play. They really needed to score here. It didn’t happen.
Instead, Schmid denied another Zibanejad one-timer to cheers from the Devils crowd. That was the only save he had to make over the two minute penalty. The Rangers made poor decisions with the puck that allowed the more aggressive Devils penalty kill to clear the zone. They also continued to look for something shorthanded. Sharangovich fired over the net.
With the game still scoreless late in the period, Panarin entered the Devils zone and made one of those bad drop passes to nobody. That turnover allowed Hughes to transition quickly for a breakaway that Shesterkin handled. His biggest save came when he got just enough of Hughes’ backhand to keep it out. That’s how most of the game was.
Of all the players in the series, Panarin was the most disappointing Ranger. He is getting paid a lot of money but doesn’t look like a playoff player. But a paper tiger. He finished with zero goals and two assists. He had no points over the last six games. Unbelievable.
The Rangers were finally starting to play better late in the period. Schmid made a few stops, including one on a tricky Kane deflection off a smart Mikkola pass. Hischier would get a similar redirection that Shesterkin stopped with under a minute left.
Despite being outplayed for the first half, the Rangers were out-shot 7-6. Total attempts were 21-15 Devils.
At the start of the second period, Zibanejad had a shot block to deny Bratt. After the line change, the Devils got the Hughes line out against the Chytil line. Hughes had a shot rejected by Chytil, who didn’t have a good series. He wasn’t as effective as last year’s playoffs. But he worked hard. He absorbed a hit from Bahl during that same shift.
Palat got in the path of a Mikkola shot. That allowed the Devils to counter quickly. Mercer missed on a tip-in over the top. The Devils ability to counter due to their speed was a huge difference in the series. Once they adjusted following Game Two, they controlled most of the play.
A key sequence almost resulted in a Ranger goal. On a hit from Lafreniere on Hughes, he forced a turnover. Coming in two-on-one, he moved in and got off a good shot from the left circle that Schmid gloved. That probably was his best save of the game. If Lafreniere scores there, it might’ve played out differently.
The Devils didn’t have as much easy access for a good portion of the second. It was the Rangers who finally picked up their play. In particular, the line that had Lafreniere with Vincent Trocheck and Kane was good. They put together some good offensive shifts. On a strong forecheck, Trocheck got a tough shot in tight that rebounded to Kane. But he had nowhere to go due to being checked on the play. That allowed Schmid to cover the puck up.
At the end of his shift, Lafreniere came in transition. However, his long wrist shot went wide. Unlike the previous six games, he was more decisive looking for his shot. After not picking up a point in the tough series loss, it’ll be interesting to see what the Rangers decide to do with Lafreniere’s next contract. He definitely hasn’t earned a long-term deal. But I think it would he a mistake to give up on him. There are elements of his game that are sound. I’ll have more thoughts in the off-season.
The Devils finally got a penalty called when Miller accidentally high-sticked Meier behind the net. He didn’t even see him. However, their power play didn’t last long. Unable to do anything during the first half, Bratt took down Barclay Goodrow to go off for tripping.
The Rangers wisely killed some clock to try to give themselves more time on the eventual five-on-four. However, there was still the matter of the ensuing four-on-four. One that proved disastrous.
After playing them to a standstill, it looked like the Rangers would go on the man-advantage with a good chance to take the lead. Instead, Palat pressured Fox into a huge mistake behind his own net. He lost control of the puck due to Palat’s persistence.
Kreider tried to play the puck and get out. Before he could, Palat stripped him clean and then made a great pass in front for McLeod, who was able to tuck home a backhand past Shesterkin for a backbreaking shorthanded goal with 10:07 left in the period.
It was a classic example of why the Devils signed Palat. The former Lightning Stanley Cup hero just has a knack for making these kinds of big plays. Fox’s soft play made it possible. His pass wasn’t good for Kreider because he panicked. Palat made a terrific read, and all but scored the goal that McLeod got. McLeod was in the right spot and showed great patience to score the momentum turning first goal.
One might ask, how many times can the Rangers be burned by Palat? Apparently, not enough. They haven’t learned anything since 2015. In some aspects, this series mirrored the crushing Eastern Conference Final loss to the Lightning. They were completely shut down in Games 5 and 7. The only difference is that at least it came on the road. Even if there were Rangers fans in attendance last night.
Energized by that goal, the Devils looked for more. Shesterkin would have to stop McLeod again. With the Rangers back to being a mess in their end, Hischier had what looked like the second goal. But a diving Miller made a great block that probably saved a goal. He limped off the ice. As critical as I’ve been, that was a gutsy play by Miller. He was actually better in this game but took an ill-advised penalty during the third when things turned ugly.
The Rangers were back to being one and done. They never could sustain enough pressure to really mount an attack. Schmid saw all 31 shots. There was zero traffic. Even if he’s a young netminder, that’s too easy. He got the game’s first star because he had a shutout. The Rangers never made him work hard. The only game that they did, they beat him five times.
While the Rangers struggled, you had Sharangovich getting two quality scoring chances on Shesterkin. He kept making big saves to give his team a chance. They were unwilling to take it. They couldn’t get out of their own way.
On a better shift where Gallant decided to reunite the 21 and over Kid Line, they created a few shots. But everything was from the outside. Schmid made the stops. He got a stoppage after making a save on a long try from Lafreniere.
Then came the shift from hell. On a night where they just didn’t have it, the top line imploded. On what can be best described as defense optional, they watched Marino cruise into the zone and fly by for a backhand point blank that narrowly missed due to Shesterkin challenging.
With Kreider unable to back check, Marino eventually retrieved the puck behind the Rangers net and sent a pass in front to an uncovered Tomas Tatar for an easy goal. That made it 2-0 with 4:21 remaining.
The replay showed Mikkola go down early with Mercer driving the net to create a distraction for him and Braden Schneider. Kreider let Marino come in for the first chance. He then went towards Marino. Tarasenko never even attempted to pick up Tatar. It was an utter failure by all five skaters. It was a very soft play that was indicative of how it went.
At that moment, it felt like game over. The breakdown was just as bad as the first goal. There was such a lack of effort. It was also how relentless the Devils were. They were much better, earning these goals.
It took until less than a minute left for the Rangers to actually start firing shots at Schmid. Trouba had a point shot redirected by Zibanejad in front that almost went in. Miller sent a point shot wide. With four seconds to go, Schmid denied a Tarasenko tip-in to keep the Devils up by two headed to the locker room.
In the third, Gallant decided to put Panarin and Kane together with Trocheck. They didn’t click. Maybe he should’ve reunited Panarin with Tarasenko. They had chemistry together. Whether it was with Trocheck or Zibanejad, that was never tried. Gallant could’ve had Kane and Kreider back up with Zibanejad like the first two games.
The Devils had a good initial forecheck during the first couple of minutes. Eventually, they’d back up and play that tight defensive system, which took away the rush. They eliminated the stretch pass and made the Rangers dump and chase. They weren’t quick enough on the forecheck to recover pucks and cycle.
Tarasenko got a good shot on Schmid, who made the save. But that was it. It was again one and done. After Trouba got a shot that Schmid stopped, Tatar had a takeaway that led to Miller getting out-raced by the faster Hischier who got nearly got a chance.
Shesterkin came way out to play a puck. That led to Hischier accidentally knocking into Shesterkin, who went down. Miller lost his discipline by roughing up Hischier. As that was happening, Haula sent a puck into an open net. But the whistle had gone.
Miller was sent off for tripping. How. It was clearly roughing. Honestly, they were abysmal. The officials were so bad that after the first Miller penalty earlier in the game, they actually had Goodrow in the box before realizing their folly. Aside from that, they missed a few obvious penalties on the Rangers, including a Trouba high stick on Bratt. The Devils were already on the power play. They simply didn’t want to call it.
On the power play, the Devils couldn’t get much done. Aside from an early Haula tip-in that went over the net, they watched in horror as Trouba delivered a lethal hit that sent Meier flying. He stayed down for a while. The replay showed that Trouba had Meier lined up with his head down. The only issue was that even though he led with the shoulder, he made contact with Meier’s head. It really should’ve been an illegal check to the head penalty.
In the old days, Scott Stevens was the master at catching players with their head on a swivel. The rules were different. The game was a lot tougher. Trouba is cut out of the same cloth. He obviously tried to wake up his team. It was too late. They were asleep. It definitely was a penalty that they didn’t have the guts to call. I say that as a big Trouba supporter. He hits clean. But this one was a little too high.
Meier left the game and didn’t return. He was bloodied by the vicious hit. Obviously, he must’ve been in concussion protocol. It looked bad. Astonishingly, he did come back during the handshakes and met up with Trouba. It seemed cordial. I imagine he apologized. Hopefully, Meier will be okay to go for the Devils in the next round.
Following a successful penalty kill, the Rangers really had a difficult time with the Devils 1-2-2. If there was a criticism, it was the failure by the bench to adjust to those tactics. They never deviated. Maybe Lundqvist had a good point when he wondered what the game plan was.
Following a turnover with them pinching their defense, Mercer was one on one with Shesterkin. He stoned him to keep it a two-goal game. Sharangovich missed on a rebound. That’s what happens when you play from behind in a deciding Game Seven. Eventually, you have to take chances. It was pretty obvious what the score would wind up.
With the game still close, Panarin had Trocheck in the slot for one of the Rangers’ best scoring chances. But Schmid made a superb glove save to thwart him. That was it. It was that kind of night.
On another effective shift, Lafreniere centered a pass in front that Chytil missed. As play continued, Chytil sent an unscreened wrist shot from the perimeter that Schmid easily handled.
With the Rangers in desperation mode, they finally got burned. A Palat takeaway allowed Hughes to lead an odd-man rush. He perfectly set up Haula for the dagger with 5:33 remaining.
Game over. It was pretty bad afterward. Shesterkin then made another great save to deny Bratt. He simply swatted it away. The three goals he allowed were off great chances created by the Devils, who were too fast. They were the better team and proved it.
Eventually, Gallant lifted Shesterkin for a six-on-five. Following one more Schmid save on Zibanejad, who had a forgettable game and tough series by his standards, Marino sent a clear down that Bratt hustled to. He circled around the net and put in his first into the empty net to put the exclamation point on the Devils win.
As Hasan said prior to the game, it was a weird series. There was no such thing as momentum. Most of the games weren’t close. The Devils won the one game they had to to get back in it. Game Three in overtime when Bratt set up Dougie Hamilton. Speaking of which, he didn’t even have a great series. It didn’t matter.
Hischier scored no goals but wound up with five assists. He had his best game when it counted. Bratt got one goal. Meier had no points. Sometimes, it’s hard to make sense of the playoffs. Anything can happen. That’s how the series played out.
Congrats to my Devils friends. Enjoy it for the day. Next up are the Hurricanes. They play a more structured game. Even though they aren’t a strong offensive team, they should make it tough on the Devils. It probably will be a good series.
I’ll have more on the Rangers once things clear later this week. What will they do? Are changes coming? I guess we’ll have to wait and find out.
It’s hard to believe the season is over. A final thought. I never thought this roster had the right mix. As good a job as he’s done, Chris Drury has to take a hit for this. It wasn’t only him who decided to risk the salary cap for Kane, which meant the same lineup every game. That came from above.
Last year’s team had better chemistry. They weren’t as easy to play against. They had more grit. You need that in the playoffs. Somehow, that got lost in translation. It isn’t about fielding the most talented roster full of stars. It’s about constructing the best team. They failed miserably.
My last three stars features all Devils. I went with Marino for third star. He and Ryan Graves had a better series than Miller and Trouba. The second star was clearly Palat. He got stronger in the big games. Mister Clutch again doomed the Rangers. First star goes to Schmid. He was the difference. Even if our team couldn’t test him enough, he was the best player. Haula was the best skater. Who had that coming in? I had a feeling Haula would be good. He was a great pickup by the Devils.
Good piece and good series. I’ll have my own thoughts soon enough, but can’t disagree with much of what you wrote on either team. Kind of fitting that a weird series ends with a dominant Game 7 that really didn’t manifest itself in the shot total. And that after road teams won the first four, home teams dominated the last three. It really did feel like two different series with the Hamilton OT winner in Game 3 as the start of the dividing line.
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