Building up to the first-round clash between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, much discussion was had surrounding the Rangers’ ability to contain the Devils’ speed game. Many doubted whether the Rangers could slow down a loaded Devils offense, and their concerns were valid, considering New Jersey went 3-0-1 against the Blueshirts in the regular season.
That question has been answered through two games of this playoff edition of the Hudson River rivalry, and the Rangers have passed the test with flying colors. Gerard Gallant’s group has executed their game plan, and their experience and depth have shown through over the first two games of this series.
The Rangers, who head home to Madison Square Garden with a commanding 2-0 series lead, have seen complete buy-in up and down the lineup, with all 18 skaters committed to the defensive side of the puck. It’s been a stark contrast to the start of the 2022 Postseason, which saw the Rangers scrambling in their own end and getting outclassed by a veteran Pittsburgh Penguins roster.
Now, the Rangers are the veteran group, and their willingness to defend and sacrifice their body has been evident from puck drop in Game 1. We know about their offensive depth, which has also shined, with back-to-back 5-1 victories on the road, but the willingness to battle and take pride in defending has stood out above all else thus far.
Rangers Have Outclassed the Devils
Game 1 saw the Rangers control the first 20 before the Devils pushed in the second and third frames. Igor Shesterkin was brilliant when he needed to be, with the lone goal surrendered, the result of a Jack Hughes penalty shot. The penalty kill was a perfect 4-for-4, yielding zero shots on all four power plays.
Per Natural Stat Trick, the Rangers were out-chanced 36-25 at all strengths, with the Devils expected to score 2.68 goals to the Rangers’ 2.38. Yet, the Devils’ opportunities were one and done, and despite more volume, the Rangers got off to a fast start, focusing more on shutting the Devils down in the last 40 than they were on adding to their lead.
In Game 2, the Rangers had the edge in play, out-chancing the Devils 31-26 at all strengths, with the Rangers expected to score 3.38 goals and the Devils 2.38. The Rangers tightened things up even more in a game that the Devils needed. And to those watching, it was hard to recall 26 scoring chances for New Jersey, who seemed to be outside the high-danger areas all night.
The Rangers blocked 23 shots in Game 1, with four different players registering at least three blocks. Game 2 saw the Rangers with 16 blocks, with 11 different players registering at least one. Through two games, the Rangers have blocked 20 more shots than the Devils, demonstrating their willingness to sacrifice their bodies.
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Sure, the Devils may have had more puck possession and attempts than the Rangers have through two games, but the Rangers are capitalizing on their chances far more often and are limiting the Devils’ ability to find open space in transition.
The Blueshirts will never be a great five-on-five team, but what they have shown over two games is a commitment to playing in all three zones and mitigating the damage enough to where their offense can go win them the game.
Rangers Need to Continue This Style of Play
After last year’s run to the Eastern Conference Final, the Rangers saw what it would take to get through the postseason and achieve their ultimate goal. That experience and desire to win are shining bright right now. But to achieve the ultimate goal and win a Stanley Cup, the Rangers cannot take their foot off the gas now.
When asked what it was like to go back home up 2-0 in the series, Rangers’ captain Jacob Trouba, who has been terrific in his own end early in this first round, answered you’d want your leader to give:
Good. I think we played enough series last year to know nothing is given for sure. It’s a seven game series. We will go home and try to take care of business on home ice.From @SNYRangers on Twitter
The Rangers know it takes four games to win a series and 16 to win the Stanley Cup. They are happy with how they have played but know the job is nowhere near complete. Closing out a team is extremely challenging, and despite the early success against the Devils, they will not go away without a fight.
To ensure a round-one victory and advance to the Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers must stay disciplined and devoted to the defensive side of the puck. Goals will come, and their power play is lethal, but a good defense wins championships. The sacrifice and willingness to get in shooting lanes, battle in front of your net, and win puck battles in the corners and side walls are crucial to postseason success.
The regular season had its fair share of ups and downs and inconsistency throughout, but the veteran, playoff-tested group the Rangers have right now has shown through two games they are willing to do what it takes to win. And that starts with continued success in the defensive end, a trend which they look to continue in Game 3 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.