Rangers: 3 Things to Watch for in Game 7

It’s an all too familiar place for the New York Rangers. A hard-fought series with the New Jersey Devils has again led them to a pivotal, winner-take-all Game 7. They played in two Game 7s in the 2022 Postseason, winning them both, the first against the Pittsburgh Penguins and the second against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Like those two last season, the Rangers will head on the road for the high-stakes affair, looking to eliminate New Jersey in their barn. This series has been a roller coaster of emotions for both sides, with the Rangers grabbing a 2-0 series lead with back-to-back 5-1 wins on the road. Then the Devils grabbed the next three, once in overtime and twice in regulation before the Rangers fought back in Game 6.

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The goaltending has been spectacular, as Igor Shesterkin has continued to be the brilliant netminder we have become accustomed to, while Akira Schmid has entered the other net in Game 3 and has not looked back. The postseason can bring the most unlikely of names to the forefront, and Schmid has been just that in this series.

But what has happened in Games 1-6 is now a memory, as all eyes move towards Game 7. It is a pivotal showdown in a renewed rivalry, and this is what you should be paying attention to as they face off on Monday night.

Which Rangers Offense Will Show Up?

The Rangers’ offense has scored 17 goals over the first six games of the series, yet 15 of them have come during their three victories, while just two have come during their defeats. When they make plays with the puck and get to the middle of the ice, the Blueshirts have been able to create and score in bunches. But when they become content with staying on the perimeter, the Devils’ speed has shut them down completely.

Mika Zibanejad got on the board in Game 6 with his second-period goal, his first of the series. Last year, he was held without a goal through five games in the first round before scoring three in the final two games. Zibanejad has always been a streaky goal scorer, and the Rangers hope his goal Saturday night will bring that on.

Gerard Gallant’s makeshift top line of Zibanejad centering Vladimir Tarasenko and Chris Kreider worked in Game 6, with each player scoring a goal. Kreider (six goals) and Tarasenko (three goals) have scored at least once in all three Rangers victories thus far. In a pivotal Game 7, however, they will need some help.

Artemi Panarin, the highest-paid player on the Rangers, has yet to score a goal this series. They will need him to play a role in Game 7, as he did one year ago when he scored the overtime winner. He has not had a point since the first game of this series, and he needs to get back on track in Game 7.

It has been the tale of two offenses through six games. Which offense shows up for the Blueshirts in Game 7 will be the difference maker.

Will the Rangers’ Special Teams be Special?

Power plays are an essential component of any postseason. When you get one, capitalizing is vital, as goals come at a premium. The Rangers started 4-for-7 on the power play, allowing them to open up leads in their 5-1 wins during Games 1 and 2. They have dried up since with just one power-play goal over the last four contests, with that one being a big tally, tying the score at the end of the first period in Game 6.

Related: Rangers’ Struggles to Get to the Middle of the Ice Are Nothing New

Kreider has all five of the Rangers’ power play goals in the series, and they need someone else to join the party for their power play to be successful in Game 7. Panarin scored the overtime winner against the Penguins in Game 7 on the power play last season, and the Rangers went 2-for-3 on the power play in Game 7 of the following series against the Carolina Hurricanes.

If you win the special teams battle, you win the game. It is usually that simple. And for the Rangers, their power play needs to capitalize when given the opportunity. Yet, it is equally as crucial for their penalty kill to do the same. Killing penalties is all about sacrifice, and in Game 7, you must be willing to sacrifice the body to win the game.

The Rangers have had the edge in special teams play in this series, but most of their success was early on. They need to find a way to find their touch on the power play once again on the road in Game 7 while remaining stout on the penalty kill.

Shesterkin to Continue His Dominant Run

The Rangers may have been inconsistent through the first six games of this first-round series, but there is nothing inconsistent about Shesterkin’s game. He leads all goaltenders with more than one game with a .939 save percentage. He is second in goals against average with a 1.79; per Natural Stat Trick, he is first in goals saved above average with 6.01.

He has been incredible all series long, and with him in the net, you know you have a chance to win every night. If the Rangers can eliminate the cross-seam passes from the Devils, Shesterkin can shut them down all night. If you look at the goals he has given up in the series, the vast majority have come either from an odd-man rush or a seam pass.

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Gallant must adjust, and his team must make intelligent decisions with the puck and in coverage to minimize those opportunities. If they do so, Shesterkin will take care of the rest. He has allowed three goals or fewer in 22 straight playoff games and is currently riding a streak of 19-straight contests in which he has allowed three or fewer goals dating back to March 9.

There is no better goalie on the planet right now than Shesterkin, who shows how spectacular he is nightly. For the Rangers to win Game 7, he must be magnificent again. His teammates will have to do their part defensively as well, but the Blueshirts’ success in the winner-take-all series finale will stem from their goaltender’s play.

It seems the Rangers will go as far as Shesterkin will take them, and the Rangers hope he takes them to the second round with a win on Monday night.

Igor Shesterkin New York Rangers
Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This series has been great so far, and Game 7 surely won’t disappoint. Will the Rangers’ big guns show up or will they be overrun by the Devils’ young stars? Will Schmid’s surprising story continue, or will Shesterkin close the book on his season? This one will be a doozy.