4 Takeaways From Devils’ Game 5 Win vs. Rangers

The New Jersey Devils have flipped the script in their first-round series versus the New York Rangers. After losing the first two games at home, they’ve stormed back with three consecutive wins to take a 3-2 series lead. They punctuated it with a commanding 4-0 win in Game 5 to put the Rangers on the brink of elimination. Here are four takeaways and some quick hits as the Devils look to advance to Round 2.

Devils’ Depth Players Shine

The Devils’ stars played a significant role in evening up the series at 2-2. Nico Hischier, Dougie Hamilton, Jesper Bratt and Jack Hughes all had crucial plays or goals that allowed the team to win two games at Madison Square Garden before returning to home ice for Game 5. Yesterday, the team’s depth players were the ones who stepped up to help bring home the victory. 

Part of the reason the Devils acquired Erik Haula from the Boston Bruins during the offseason was for moments like this. He was a member of the Vegas Golden Knights team that made the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season, so he has the experience of playing in grueling postseason series. He led the way on the scoresheet in Game 5, totaling two goals and an assist.

Haula’s power-play goal gave the Devils a 2-0 cushion early in the second period, something they haven’t had any of in this series. Later in the second frame, he set up Dawson Mercer for a one-time blast while shorthanded to give the team a 3-0 lead to all but salt the game away. And with the Rangers trying to mount a comeback in the third, he helped clear a puck off the goal line to keep the shutout intact. He finished with a game score of 3.35 to lead all Devils skaters, which doesn’t come as a surprise based on how he played. 

Erik Haula New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils forward Erik Haula (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Speaking of Mercer, it looks like he’s come alive. As mentioned, there was his shorthanded goal, but he also picked up the primary assist on Haula’s power-play goal. It was easily his best game of the series, as he finished with a 61.57 expected goals percentage (xG%) at five-on-five. Head coach Lindy Ruff moved him to center with Timo Meier and Jesper Boqvist to start the game, so look for that line to stay together for Game 6. 

And, of course, there was Ondrej Palát, who scored 39 seconds into the game to give the Devils a 1-0 lead. He got lucky, as the puck deflected off Adam Fox’s stick and over Igor Shesterkin. But the goal set the tone, and the Devils didn’t look back after then; playoff moments like that are partly why the Devils signed him as a free agent. On a night when Bratt, Hischier, Hamilton and Hughes had relatively quiet games, the Devils’ depth pulled through for the dominating 4-0 win. 

Devils Defense Comes Through Again

From a defensive standpoint, the Devils’ effort looked similar to Game 3, and especially Game 4. The Rangers did find some more quality looks than they did in the previous two games, but that was due to a second period where they had six high-danger chances and 1.34 expected goals. Otherwise, they had three high-danger opportunities and 0.88 expected goals at five-on-five the rest of the game. 

Related: 4 Takeaways From Devils’ Game 4 Win vs. Rangers

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The Devils once again did a fantastic job of clogging up the neutral zone and not allowing the Rangers to transition the puck up the ice. Per Bryce Salvador’s stats during the MSG Devils post-game show, the Devils had 20 shots on goal in the slot to the Rangers’ six. Not only could they not create off the rush — rush chances were 12-2 for New Jersey — but the Devils took away the middle of the ice in their own end too. 

As was the case in Games 3 and 4, the Devils kept the Rangers’ stars off the scoresheet. Mika Zibanejad finished with a 79.34 xG%, but he got shut down by Hischier and John Marino, who spent most of their minutes against Zibanejad and kept his xG% in the 30s when they were on the ice against him. If they continue to contain him, they have good odds of closing the series in six games. 

Schmid Has Been a Revelation

It’s been quite the goalie change for the Devils, huh? Not that it was Vitek Vanecek’s fault the team went down 2-0 in the series; the team did not play well in front of him. But Akira Schmid has provided the much-needed spark to get back into the series. Hischier, the Devils’ captain, had glowing words for his fellow countryman in his post-game media scrum: 

The Rangers haven’t yet had an answer for Schmid, who made 23 saves in the shutout while stopping 2.46 goals expected. They did test him more than they did in Games 3 and 4, but he still came up with some clutch saves; a glove save on Artemi Panarin early in the first period stood out. 

Schmid has started to get into the Rangers’ head a bit, too, and his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame might be a factor. The Rangers got off an impressive 57 shot attempts at all strengths but only hit the net 23 times. They’re missing the net quite a bit, and Schmid’s size and positioning are likely factors. We’ll see if that changes in Game 6, but to this point, they haven’t found an answer. 

Devils Didn’t Sit Back in the 3rd

Though the Devils played a solid first 40 minutes, they took it to the Rangers in the third period. They did not come close to sitting back, as shots on goal were 20-2 at all strengths in favor of the Devils. They held the Rangers to two high-danger chances and only 0.41 expected goals at five-on-five, and this was while having a 3-0 lead. Simply put, they broke the Rangers’ will. 

It’s not the first time the Devils have done that to a team this season. If the opportunity presents itself, they will look to use their speed and rush attack to put their opponent on their heels. This is how they play, and if they enter Game 6 with a two- or three-goal cushion in the third period, they’ll look to attack instead of sitting back and trying to preserve the lead. 

Devils Quick Hits

  • Having a third pair of Kevin Bahl and Damon Severson has been a real X-factor for the Devils. Severson was fantastic last night, playing a crucial role in Haula’s power-play goal. Bahl was throwing his body around and dropped the gloves shortly before Mercer’s shorthanded tally. They might not have had flashy games like Haula and Mercer, but they’re a testament to how underrated the team’s depth has been. 
Kevin Bahl New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils defenseman Kevin Bahl (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)
  • Timo Meier doesn’t have a point in this series, but it sure feels like it’s coming soon. He finished with four shots goal, five scoring chances and four high-danger chances. If it weren’t for Shesterkin robbing Meier of a couple of goals yesterday, he would’ve found the scoresheet. He finished with a 65.45 xG%, so the process has been there too. Eventually, he’ll find the back of the net. 

The fourth game is the hardest to win in a series. Ruff mentioned it in his post-game press conference, as did Hischier, who said Palát has talked about how hard it is to win the series clincher. The Devils will need to be at their sharpest to win Game 6 on Saturday. 

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