4 Takeaways From Devils’ Game 7 Win vs. Rangers

The New Jersey Devils have not been shy about stepping up when the pressure is on this season. Last night, in a winner-take-all Game 7 versus the New York Rangers, they thoroughly dominated their local rivals, shutting them out 4-0 to end their season. With the win, the Devils advance to Round 2 and take on the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 tomorrow (May 3). Here are four takeaways and some quick hits from the dominating win.

Devils’ Veterans Led the Way

There’s no mistaking who the Devils’ core players are. And while Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, and Nico Hischier made an impact, the team’s veterans led the way in Game 7. Led by Ondrej Palát, who knows a thing or two about coming up big in the playoffs, the team got off running with his effort on the penalty kill in the second period. 

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With the Devils having to kill off a Bratt tripping penalty, Palát stripped Adam Fox of the puck, then Chris Kreider. He then faked out Fox and fed the puck to Michael McLeod, who deked out Igor Shesterkin for a shorthanded goal to give the Devils a 1-0 lead:

Palát finished with two assists, but he wasn’t the only Devils veteran who stepped up. Erik Haula gave some crucial minutes on the penalty kill, and he all but iced the game with a one-time blast in the third period off a great feed from Hughes for a 3-0 lead. Haula was the team’s most consistent scorer against the Rangers, finishing with four goals and six points in seven games. 

And last but not least, Tomáš Tatar broke through with his first goal and point of the 2023 playoffs to make it 2-0 in the second period. Tatar was one of the Devils’ most underrated players during the regular season, so it was great to see him rewarded in Game 7. He finished the night with an 83.62 expected goals percentage (xG%), and the Devils out-chanced the Rangers 11-4 with him on the ice; they also had a 7-1 edge in high-danger chances. 

In my Game 7 preview, I mentioned the importance of striking first. The Florida Panthers did so in their Game 7 win over the Boston Bruins, as did the Seattle Kraken in their 2-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche. Teams that tallied the first goal were 145-47 all-time in NHL Game 7s coming into yesterday, including the Panthers and Kraken. With the Devils lighting the lamp first, teams that scored first in Game 7s were 3-0 in the first round. The three most experienced players on the Devils’ roster led the way, and sometimes, that’s what you need to win a playoff series. 

Schmid Outstanding Again

The Devils needed just one more quality start from Akira Schmid, who has been one of the best storylines of the NHL playoffs so far. He had a rough Game 6, giving up five goals on 29 shots. With that said, it’d be hard to fault him for any of the tallies he gave up. Plus, he was due for some regression since he had a .975 save percentage coming into Game 6. 

Akira Schmid New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils goaltender Akira Schmid (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

There was no doubt about whether he’d start Game 7 because of how he’s responded in pressure situations this season, and boy, did he respond in a big way. Schmid was dialed in from the start, making difficult saves look routine. His positioning was sound, and he rarely gave up a rebound on the Rangers’ 31 shots. His glove was as sharp as can be, as he made multiple flashy saves with the leather. 

By the time the game concluded, Schmid had stopped 1.88 goals above expected while making 31/31 saves. His SV% for the playoffs rose from .937 to 950 with that effort. He changed the series for the Devils, and if they’re to advance to the Eastern Conference Final, they’ll need him to continue his strong play against the Hurricanes. 

Devils Throttled the Rangers at 5-on-5

If you watched both Game 7s on Sunday, you would’ve thought the Devils and Rangers would’ve been in for a tight game with not much space for either team in the neutral zone. That’s not what happened, as the Devils thoroughly dominated the Rangers from the opening faceoff.

Though New Jersey didn’t score in the first period, you could tell they weren’t nervous. They got off to a strong start at five-on-five before minor penalties killed their momentum a bit. Fortunately, their penalty kill came up huge (more on that in a second), and that probably carried over to the Devils picking up their five-on-five game over the final two frames. 

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In all, the Devils controlled 69.21 percent of the expected goals at five-on-five, creating 3.39 to allowing 1.51. They had 17 high-danger chances to the Rangers’ five, a testament to how they didn’t let the Rangers generate anything offensively. Their speed was a problem for the Rangers all night, as they couldn’t exit the defensive zone on multiple occasions. Adam Fox struggled to transition the puck up the ice, while the Rangers’ third pair of Niko Mikkola and Braden Schneider routinely got caved in. 

Fox’s defense partner, Ryan Lindgren, finished with the worst xG% among Rangers skaters (8.51 percent). New York can’t get much going when their top pairing gets taken out of the game, which is what the Devils did in Game 7. They dominated from start to finish, a fitting reflection of the 4-0 score. 

Devils Penalty Kill Saved the Day

The beginning of Game 7 had a familiar feel to previous outings of this series. A hot start at five-on-five getting neutered by a parade to the sin bin. The Rangers made the Devils pay for it in Game 6 with a power-play goal from Kreider that led to five straight unanswered tallies and a 5-2 win for the Rangers

Michael McLeod New Jersey Devils
Michael McLeod, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Devils had other plans for Game 7, however. Their penalty killers came up clutch, especially in the first period, where they killed off three Rangers’ power plays. We’ve seen time and time again that failed power plays in the postseason can affect a team’s performance at five-on-five. Not that the Rangers were playing well before the Devils took three minor penalties in the opening frame, but the game could’ve had a different look if New York converted. 

The cherry on top was when McLeod scored the shorthanded goal to put the Devils ahead 1-0. Overall, the Devils’ penalty killers did a great job limiting quality chances for the Rangers’ power play. They held the Rangers to just 0.31 expected goals in 5:45 of power play time. And get this. The Devils’ penalty kill actually out-chanced the Rangers’ power play, totaling two high-danger chances to zero for New York’s man advantage. It set the tone for the Devils to break through, and they probably don’t win without their penalty kill’s effort. 

Devils Quick Hits

  • John Marino isn’t an offensive dynamo, but his play on Tatar’s goal was crucial. He started by attacking the Rangers’ net via the rush and getting a puck just wide of Igor Shesterkin. Once Marino retrieved it behind the goal line, he made a beautiful pass to Tatar in front of the net. Marino was his usual defensive self, too; the Rangers averaged just 1.52 xGs per 60 when he was on the ice in Game 7. The Devils had an 81.32 xG% with him on the ice against Mika Zibanejad, so he shut down the Rangers’ top scoring threat again. 
  • Marino wasn’t the only Devils defenseman who had a great game. Dougie Hamilton was all over the ice offensively as the Devils caved in the Rangers in his five-on-five minutes. New Jersey had a 31-13 shot attempt advantage and 91.24 xG% with him on the ice at five-on-five. He was dominant two ways and never gave the Rangers a chance to do anything offensively. 
  • Timo Meier took a brutal hit from Jacob Trouba in the third period. He returned to the bench late in the final frame, but we’ll see what his status is for Game 1 against the Hurricanes tomorrow night. He didn’t score, but I thought he was fantastic in Game 7. Not only was he a thorn in the Rangers’ side, but he led Devils skaters with a 94.75 xG%

The Devils are off to their first second-round series since 2012, when they won the Eastern Conference. A preview of their matchup against the Hurricanes will be posted at The Hockey Writers sometime before noon tomorrow, so stay tuned to THW for the latest coverage. 

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