This past Sunday, we achieved our goal. Under the management of Sherman Abrams with feedback from the People Who Matter, we managed to get the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils into the playoffs in Eastside Hockey Manager. The goal was to see if we could do it and we did it. Mistakes were made. Bold calls were decided. Success still tasted sweet in this hockey simulation game that is still active to this day. While the goal was achieved, let us see if this Devils team can overachieve in this simulation.
As stated in Sunday’s post, the playoff posts will be more frequent throughout the week. There is not much to really do other than adjust lineups as needed due to performance issues and/or injuries. All the same, Abrams and I would like to thank the People Who Matter that commented in the previous post: smelph, luozhen, OfManNotMachine, gosawks, and EliasStillRocks.
In the EHM season, the Devils finished second in the Metropolitan Division. Thanks to the results on the final day, the Devils sent the Isles into a wild-card match up with Montreal and so Our Favorite Team would face Our Hated Rivals in the first round. The Devils pasted the Rangers by a combined score of 16 to 11 as New Jersey went 3-1-0 in the season series. Will the Devils achieve similar success in the postseason? Let us find out.
Round 1, Game 1 - Series Opener at the Rock
Days prior to Game 1, Abrams received some unexpected news. Center Martin Hanzal was getting closer to being healthy.
You may have forgot that Abrams acquired Hanzal as part of the deal that brought Jake Oettinger to New Jersey. The idea was to eat his monster cap hit to entice Dallas to part ways with their young goalie. He was ruled out for the season with back spasms. As of April 9, he was starting light practice. He could very well be healthy for the playoffs. A fully rusty Hanzal is not exactly ideal but it is still another center option if it comes to that. More depth in the postseason is never a bad thing.
The first day finally arrived. Abrams reviewed the lineup before the game and realized that, yes, Taylor Hall should not be on a penalty killing unit. While his defensive attributes were not bad, his time was better spent on offensive sitations. Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman were reformed on the first unit. Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha took second unit duties. Other than that, the same lineup that prevailed over the Islanders on Regular Season Game #82 was set-up for this game. This meant Ty Smith and Jesper Boqvist would be scratched. Mackenzie Blackwood was set to start Game 1. The Rock was sold out and the atmosphere was electric. The Devils were back in the playoffs and against the one team the fanbase wants to see win.
Initially, the Blueshirt faithful at the Rock were the ones cheering. Kaapo Kakko charged through the neutral zone, beat Derek Forbort to get inside, and then beat Blackwood with a shot for the game’s and series’ first goal. The Devils fans were annoyed but not overly worried. New York sent Kakko’s line back out there after the score. The rookie rewarded the coach’s confidence by taking a hooking penalty 18 seconds after his goal. Ten seconds later, Jack Hughes fed Kyle Palmieri inside the left circle. Palmieri tossed it to Nico Hischier, who absorbed the pressure from Marc Staal and gave the puck back to Palmieri. Palmieri ripped a shot through the two bodies and past Igor Shestyorkin for a PPG and 1-1 score.
The Devils took the lead by punishing the Rangers for a penalty. This time, Tony DeAngelo was called for a hook as he was about to be beaten. Less than twenty seconds into that power play, The Pride of Montvale, New Jersey ended it with another blast past Shestyorkin. The Devils were up 2-1 and the home team’s fans were as loud as ever. Late in the first, Craig Smith was whistled for slashing. New York managed to survive 30 seconds of this power play. They did not survive for forty seconds as Palmieri and Hall finished a breakout up the ice with Palmieri feeding Hall crashing to the net for a third PPG. The Devils were up 3-1 and Artemi Panarin’s response was to take a slashing minor out of frustration.
Alas, the second period was somewhat closer. Shestyorkin started to turn more into a wall. While Nikita Gusev’s early minor penalty in the period was killed, Mika Zibanejad finished a play in front to make it 3-2. Fortunately for New Jersey, Blackwood stepped his game up and the Rangers took three straight penalties in the second half of the period. The Devils’ power play could not break through but kept adding to the pressure.
The pressure finally got to the visitors in the third period. Just after nine minutes passed in the period, the third line broke out on a beautfiul rush. Nathan Bastian played it out of his end right to Blake Coleman. Coleman sent it back as Bastian gained the zone. Pavel Zacha was flying down the center and Bastian fed him. Pass, shot, score 4-2 Devils. Minutes later, The Big Deal, Jack Hughes, won a faceoff right to P.K. Subban. Subban hammered a long-distance shot through traffic and past Shestyorkin to make it 5-2. Other than Coleman holding minor on the next shift (which was killed), the Rangers just lost it. Cristobal ‘Boo’ Nieves decided to slash down a Devil and did something bad to get a ten-minute misconduct for it. The Devils did not punish the initial penalty but they did not need to. They blew out the Rangers in Game 1, 6-2.
Your eyes are not deciving you. The Devils had ten power plays in Game 1. The Rangers managed to even get calls in the third period of a playoff game. So much so that I cannot include all the penalties in just one screen shot.
The calls not seen in this shot: 50:10 - Panarin: 2 minutes for hooking; 53:59 - Coleman: 2 minutes for holding; 55:10 - Nieves: 2 minutes for slashing, 10 minute misconduct.
As indicated by the in-game ratings, the Devils were the better team by far. Hughes and Palmieri were brilliant. Bastian was excellent. The only Devils to just have “OK” games were Forbort and Zajac. In a 6-2 win, I will take it. Just as much as I will take Shestyorkin getting a 5 in his first game. Will we see The False King of New York?
Round 1, Game 2 - More Good Times at the Rock
Satisfied with how Game 1 went, there were no changes to be made for Game 2. Two nights after Game 1, the puck was dropped for Game 2. After a minute or so, Brendan Lemieux decided he needed to literally take matters in his own hands. He figured he needed to fight a Devil to get his team going and send a message that they would not be pushed around. Lemieux sought out and threw down with noted tough-guy Pavel Zacha. Yes, really. In EHM, the fights are detailed by who throws what punches and it ends up in the play-by-play log. You would need to read it to see who won since the Game View just has colored circles moving up against each other. I guess Lemieux won it given that he threw a lot of punches.
He also won two minutes for instigating, five minutes for fighting, and ten minutes as a misconduct. The Devils did not score on that power play. They did score not long after that. After Blackwood made a save, Damon Severson recovered the rebound and sent it to Hughes. Hughes immediately sent it to Palmieri to skate it out. He saw Hall flying down the opposite end of the rink, so he sent him a pass. Hall torched Jacob Trouba and went top-shelf on Shestyorkin to make it 1-0. About two minutes later, Craig Smith was assessed a roughing minor on Coleman. 33 seconds later, Nico Hischier found the back of the net for a PPG and a two-goal lead.
The good times kept on rolling into the second period. Blackwood was stopping everything whenever the visitors did attack. Just after the halfway mark of the period, Hischier picked up a loose puck off a block of a Gusev shot and slammed it past the goalie to make it 3-0. A little later, Trouba was behind his net with the puck waiting for a change to complete. The Devils finished their change first and Subban charged at him on the forecheck. Stunned by the boldness, Trouba carelessly flung it to the left corner. Wayne Simmonds took the gift and sent a pass past Trouba across the slot to a wide open Travis Zajac. Before any other Ranger could get within ten feet of the play, it was 4-0. Steve Dangle would call that a “Dang-it.” Late in the period, Sami Vatanen exited the zone with a pass to Gusev. Gusev dumped it in to himself, won it, and curled around the net to find Phil Kessel open and waiting. Hot dog, the Devils were up 5-0 and the Rangers faithful were already leaving the Rock. It was a party-like atmosphere for the Devils fans. They were bummed that Adam Fox converted a power play - the only one for NY in this game - to deny Blackwood a shutout. It was still a fabulous 5-1 win for a 2-0 series advantage.
For the second straight game, the Devils peppered Shestyorkin with shots and, well, goals. The power play opportunities still left something to be desired but the results were still amazing.
You may have figured it out from Game 1, but the Rangers have a discipline problem in this series. Three third-period penalties in the playoffs? I am sure the media and fans that support the wrong team in this series are whining endlessly about how the refs are biased against them and how they were so much better in 1994 because it always goes back to 1994 with this fanbase.
Another night where the Devils players by and large out performed their opponents. Blackwood outplayed Shestyorkin. Forbort and Vatanen had exceptional games. Gusev, Hall, and Hischier were stars although an argument could be made for Palmieri too.
Round 1, Game 3 - The Series Heads to the World’s Most Overrated Arena
The Devils were on the road for the first time in this series and they had an opportunity to take a commanding series lead against Our Hated Rivals. They did not just win their first two games against them. They crushed them. It looked like a repeat was on in the first period. Tony DeAngelo took the game’s first penalty. The Devils did not score on that power play. But almost a minute after it ended, Gusev set up a rushing Kessel by the slot. The pass was in tight as DeAngelo was covering Kessel but Kessel received it and blasted it in for a 1-0 lead.
This event would cause Brendan Smith to follow Brendan Lemieux’s lead in Game 2 and start a fist fight to change things about 90 seconds later. He chose Wayne Simmonds to fight. He chose poorly. Not only did Smith lose the fight, but he received 17 minutes for his efforts. The Devils did not punish NY for the instigation. But they would go up 2-0 thanks to the fourth line. Subban found Miles Wood in the high slot and Wood fired it past DeAngelo and Lemieux, who screened Shestyorkin on the shot. Yes, Miles Wood scored. You could hear a pin drop at MSG.
However, playoff series are rarely total beatdowns. Our Hated Rivals decided to do what many teams did to the Devils in the regular season: Claw back into the game bit by bit to overcome a multiple goal deficit. It started from Greg McKegg of all players early in the second. A hooking call on Zacha yielded a PPG by Buchnevich less than thirty seconds after the call. Less than two minutes after that, Blackwood denied Nieves in front. No one had Chris Kreider. He was free to swoop across the crease - he did not hit Blackwood, maybe that gets put in verion 1.5? - and put home the rebound. The home crowd was jubilant. They were relieved. They felt this series was not going to be a sweep. For the first time since Kakko opened the scoring in Game 1, the Devils were trailing. Surely, they would have the offense to tie it up?
They had the offense to try to tie it up. They knew the Rangers were prone to taking penalties. Other than a dumb decision by DeAngelo to take a later roughing call, they kept it clean in the third. They actually played some defense and Shestyorkin played like he deserved to be the starter. Despite the late power play efforts, the Devils would not score a third goal. They lost 2-3 to Our Hated Rivals. The Rangers fans were thinking it was all going to be all right. The Devils fans wanted revenge in two nights.
Not only was this the first loss, but this was a game where the Devils did not blow away the opposition in shots. They did have six power play situations and could not convert on any them. Those opportunities are now lost in the dust.
The Rangers cleaned up their act to a degree. Sure, six shorthanded situations is a lot, but the timing does matter here. Only three penalties after the first period and only one during the comeback effort. I’m sure the coach is still irked by DeAngelo’s roughing minor, but only one third period penalty in a playoff game with a one goal lead on your own rink is a step in the right direction for them.
This was not a good night for the Devils’ top three centers. Zajac did well. Hughes was OK. Hischier and Zacha were not good. Given how much Hischier and Zacha played, that is not a good thing to see. On the plus side, Blackwood did decently all things considered and both Subban and Gusev had big nights. Perhaps the bigger issue is that Shestyorkin put in a great performance and more players put up sevens and eights instead of just sixes with a few sevens.
Round 1, Game 4 - Revenge?
Abrams mulled over the lineup. He was confident Hischier would bounce back. Zacha, on the other hand, was not doing well in his last two games. If this was a regular season game, then Abrams would consider swapping him in for Boqvist. Or going to play with three centers and put Ty Smith on defense to limit Greene’s involvement. But this was a playoff series and the Devils were still up 2-1. Abrams made no changes and so the Devils took to the ice at the World’s Most Overrated Arena. The home team fans were more energetic and active. They knew this game could be a turning point in the whole series. They also knew that a lot of eyes were on this series as the other three playoff series were on the brink of a sweep. If the Devils blew leads in games, why not in a series, they figured?
The confidence exuded by those fans was sapped five minutes into the first period. Nico Hischier quieted a lot of them down with a one-timer from the slot thanks to a feed by Gusev on a play that began with a great neutral zone stop by Vatanen. However, disaster would strike the Devils later in the period. At the 16:18 mark, Blackwood made his sixth save of the night with a pad save on a Brandon Lemieux shot. The puck went out of play and Blackwood went out of the game with an injury. Jake Oettinger had to come in. He did not play since the last weekend of the regular season and he did not do so well. This did not bode well.
Artemi Panarin decided that this situation called for a response to Hischier’s goal. A little over a minute after Oettinger entered the game, the $11 million man scored to tie up the game 1-1. The fans woke up and were chanting for the man called Bread. The Devils played out the string and headed into the locker room. They all learned that Blackwood would not be coming back. John Hynes surely instructed the team to stay focused, keep doing their jobs, and, for the love of all that is good and beautiful in the world, help Oettinger out. Kyle Palmieri got the message.
The second period started with Palmieri on with Hischier and Gusev just to provide a different look. Hischier won the draw, the Devils moved up ice, and Gusev set up Palmieri for a score. 2-1 NJ. The Devils kept up the attack to A) give Oettinger more of a cushion and B) keep the Rangers from attacking a lot themselves. They accomplished B. A cross-checking penalty on Zibanejad led to A being temporarily achieved. Palmieri scored his second of the night with help from Hall and Vatanen. The game was 3-1. The dread was setting back in. However, Our Hated Rivals got a break. Panarin charged down the right side and looked for Buchnevich for a cross-ice one-timer. The pass hit off the back of Forbort’s skates. Unfortunately, the velocity of the pass meant the puck had enough momentum off the rebound to slide past a surprised Oettinger. The Devils were now holding onto a one-goal lead in a crucial Game 4 on the road with the fans reawakened and a 21-year old rookie goalie in net. What could they do? What would they do?
They would take care of business. The Devils resumed their attack. They drew two calls. While they did not score on either, it did take precious time away from the Rangers. As much as they wanted to throw everything forward, the Devils shut down a lot of their approaches from the neutral zone and within their own zone. Even with the net empty, the Devils opted to keep the puck away instead of risking an icing on a long attempt. They were solid and made things as simple as possible for Oettinger. The goalie did his job. The skaters did their job. The Devils held on to win 3-2 and take a 3-1 series lead in the series. The Blueshirt banter turned into murmurs. The fans that talked a lot of junk about tying up the series were quieted. Revenge was obtained.
The third period was certainly a tense affair. But the Devils played as well as any one in the 5-on-6 situation for about a minute-plus. The Devils did get a PPG but again, 1-for-5 meant it could have been so much more. Also, wave “Hi” to Panarin for appearing in the box score for the first time in this series.
The Devils really could have punished the Rangers a lot more for their fouls. I have no idea why they are this undisciplined. They cleaned things up after another penalty filled first period back in Game 3. Here, they were going to the box just enough times to undercut their own efforts. No wonder the Devils held them to just 25 shots on net, they played at least eight minutes down one man.
Blackwood had a good first period up until his injury. Oettinger was more than acceptable as a replacement. Shestyorkin also played well, but the Devils ensured he was not unbeatable. The Devils skaters largely played much better with the exceptions of Subban (going from a 9 to 6), Zacha (another 5), and the fourth line. Still, Hischier, Palmieri, Hall, Gusev, Severson, Kessel, and Vatanen were very good and that helped make for a better Game 4. Speaking of poor performing players, Filip Chytil is just in over his head but I guess New York also does not have a favorable replacement for him at the moment.
Blackwood’s injury was given a full diagnosis after the game. The team braced itself when Abrams and Hynes got word from the medical staff:
The good news is that it is not something that will take months to heal. The bad news is that groins are not an easy injury to recover from. It could take longer than ten days to recover. Even if the Devils eliminate the Rangers in Game 5, Blackwood may not be back until the second round series already started. The second round will begin on either April 27 or 28 for the Devils. Blackwood is effectively out of this current series.
Abrams sighed, looked at Binghamton’s roster, sighed again, and recalled the best goalie from the team. Cory Schneider was back in New Jersey and would be backing up Oettinger for Game 5.
Round 1, Game 5 - Elimination Attempt #1
The Rock was packed and filled with more red than blue than ever before. Yes, this series was not over. Yes, there could still be a comeback. It would be very unlikely in a 3-1 series situation. Especially since the team down in the series was pasted in the two games in Newark. As the other three playoff series in the East were decided - all sweeps - all eyes in the hockey world were looking at the Rock on April 21. The tension was so thick, you could cut it with a knife. This was a rivalry game, this was a potential playoff series clincher, and a chance for the Devils to really make a statement against Our Hated Rivals.
The fans were loud to start and Hall made them even louder early in the first period. Hall took a Palmieri pass off the boards in the neutral zone, skated past DeAngelo, and passed it back to Hughes at the center point. Zibanejad was about to crunch Hughes with a hit, but The Big Deal got the pass off before impact. The pass was right to Hall, who was behind DeAngelo and in front of the net. Hall finished the play and the reaction was massive. The Devils were up 1-0 and the fans were chanting “M-V-P!” for about the 40th time this season.
Then Miles Wood disappointed the fans. In a series characterized by the Rangers doing stupid things on the ice, Wood showed he could do them too. He slashed DeAngelo hard, said something unwritable for this site to him, and received ten minutes for misconduct on top of the slashing minor. The Rangers punished the Devils for this foul. Kreider fired in a tight angled shot past Oettinger to make it 1-1. The hundreds of Rangers fans at the Rock took their time to cheer as the Devils fans gnashed their teeth and cursed Wood under their breaths.
With Wood serving the misconduct, this meant extra ice time for the left wingers. This led to Hall setting up Simmonds for a point-blank shot in front. Shestyorkin robbed him and froze the puck. Zajac won the faceoff, sent the puck back to Forbort, and saw a seam where Hall was open behind Adam Fox. Forbort made the pass and Hall was essentially all alone with the goalie in front. He fired it in off Shestyorkin to make it 2-1 and the crowd reaction was even louder after Hall’s first goal. 2-1 (and the goal is in the headline photo of this post) and the confidence was growing.
The confidence gave way to tension in the second period. Oettinger was very comfortable in net and squared up to all the shots he would see. The Devils kept firing away and tilted the ice heavily against Our Hated Rivals. Shestyorkin was again having a very fine night. As much as the Devils were knocking on the door, they could got not get past them. It was true that the Devils were outplaying the Rangers. But it was just a one-goal game. Many times, this lead would be lost at some point. The Rangers just needed one shot, one play, or even one bad break like Panarin’s second goal in Game 4 to tie it up. The Devils fans were anxious and kept hoping for an insurance goal.
Enter Miles Wood. Yes, the same Miles Wood who took the idiotic misconduct after a slash on DeAngelo. The same Miles Wood who could not stay in the lineup at points this season. The same Miles Wood that often played one way and was really fast unless he had to turn. Just over seven minutes into the third period, Vatanen lobs a puck out of the Devils’ zone and into space in the neurtral zone for Simmonds to retrieve it. The winger took the puck towards the boards, pushed ahead, and got around Jon Merrill to make a pass towards the slot. The pass eluded McKegg and Wood was able to take it. He settled the puck down and fired a hard shot off Shestyorkin and into the net. Wood scored. The Rock roared in approval. The Devils were up 3-1 and the faces on the Rangers players, coaches, and fans said it all: it was going to be over. The Rangers were frustrated but they sagged into defeat as time ticked off. The Devils won Game 5, 3-1. The Devils fans all stayed to cheer the players as they shook the hands of their opponents. The Devils players gave a cheer back. “M-V-P” chants were massive when Hall came out as the First Star of the Game. In eliminating the Rangers, the Devils got it in one.
Not only did the Devils make the playoffs, they eliminated Our Hated Rivals. I swore I even saw Abrams smile.
The 3-1 score line may not blow you away. The shot count of 42-25 should. The Devils’ offense just overwhelmed the Rangers at times and true to their identify, New York leaned heavily on their goalie to pull them through it. In the first two games of the series, that failed in glorious fashion. Shestyorkin played much better in Games 3, 4, and 5; but it was just too much.
Another story for the series was the discipline. The Devils could have really crushed the Rangers in four blowouts had their power play even scored 1 out of 5 times on average. Over the five game series, the Rangers took 104 PIM and were shorthanded 32 times. They were not this bad with penalties and shorthanded situations in the season. They just lost control against their rivals. If it was not for Wood’s misconduct, the Devils would have finished the series with just 30 PIM. I am sure the EHM world of Rangers fans would still complain about referee bias. I think their players were just that reckless.
Taylor Hall was outstanding. With the hockey world watching, he played like a total superstar. Forbort, Oettinger, and Simmonds had fantastic nights as well. Even Zacha rose up to a six in this game. The Devils really were the superior team this evening. If it was not for Shestyorkin playing quite well, this could have been a blowout like Games 1 and 2. By the way, Henrik Lundqvist played exactly zero minutes in this series. It appears Jeff Gorton and David Quinn in EHM also believe the False King doesn’t have the goods anymore. A rookie played over him in a playoff series. Too bad, so sad. He can at least go golfing in April.
The Devils have some more hockey to play.
Playoff Stats at a Glance
Here are the Devils players’ stats by points after the first round:
Palmieri is currently the team leader in points with eight. He has four goals and four assists. Just like in the season, he is frequently involved when there is scoring - especially on the power play. In the league, Palmieri is tied with Nikolaj Ehlers for the lead in playoff scoring after one round. Hall and Hischier each have six, which is great as they are on separate lines. While Gusev, Hughes, and Vatanen have not scored, they each have five assists. Kessel may only have two goals but it is not for a lack of trying as he leads the team in shots with 22. Wood has done well with his opportunity to stay in the line up, two goals from a fourth liner is big. No one has really been in trouble with penalties except for Wood and his misconduct in Game 5. Even then, it’s been fairly even across theboard.
In terms of rating, everyone has been playing well except for Zacha. He sticks out like a sore thumb. Again, if this was a regular season situation, then Abrams would likely give Boqvist a shot at center or, knowing that did not go well in the season, scratch Zacha and go with seven defensemen by putting Smith in. Fortunately, he is the only outlier. Vatanen, Hall, Palmieri, and Gusev have been fantastic.
A special shoutout for the goalies for pulling in high seven averages in shortened circumstances. Blackwood has put up a 92.2% save percentage prior to his injury. Since coming in relief in Game 4, Oettinger has a 93.3% save percentage at the moment. Combined with the defense limiting the opposition, mostly by the offense constantly attacking, the Devils look to be in good shape in most aspects of the game. This is important because the next opponent will be much tougher than Our Hated Rivals.
What’s Next & Your Take
The second round is what’s next!
Here is the playoff tree. Other than Nashville stunning Las Vegas and Calgary eliminating San Jose on the strength of two turnovers right to Sean Monahan, the higher seeds have been dominant. The Devils were the second-to-last series to be decided and that was still a five-game series. For whatever reason, this EHM season just did not end up with long first round matchups. So there is quite a bit of waiting before the second round starts in the game.
The Devils will be taking on Pittsburgh. This will be a much tougher series. Pittsburgh just swept a very good Washington team. Pittsburgh also took the Metropolitan Division by stepping over New Jersey and the New York teams down the stretch. The Devils struggled against the Penguins in the season series, which went 1-2-1 for the Devils. Matt Murray has been a stud for them. They acquired Mike Green to add to their defense, which has been as good of an addition as Kessel has been for New Jersey. Sidney Crosby is still frightening to play against, and Rust and Guentzel do not make it any easier. Their only major player out with an injury is Justin Schultz, who has been out with a broken finger and could return in about ten days. With the second round not starting for another week, Schultz could return for the series. It will be a very big challenge.
The time off may also give Blackwood time to heal, but it looks like Oettinger is going to at least start the series in Pittsburgh. And we shall see how the mighty offense of New Jersey responds to a very good Pittsburgh squad. We shall see what happens on Thursday night when the results of the second round are posted. I’ll probably play the game Wednesday night, so if you have any recommendations for what to do with the team, then get it in fast.
In the meantime, Abrams and I would like your take. What did you think of how the Devils did in the first round? Should Abrams just scratch Zacha for a game to give Boqvist or Smith a chance? Given that there is no roster limit, should the Abrams call up Daniel Sprong, Ben Street, Connor Timmins, or someone else from Binghamton as extras? How do you like the Devils’ chances against a Pittsburgh team that won the season series against the Devils and just swept Washington? What are your predictions? Please leave your answers and your thoughts and reactions to the Devils winning the first round in EHM in the comments. Thank you for reading.