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Devils Hold On to Defeat the Rangers, 2-1, in Thrilling Playoff Preview

Vitek shut the door for his 30th win of the season - the first Devils goaltender to reach that mark since Marty Brodeur.

New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

First Period

The New Jersey Devils had strong possession to start the game against the New York Rangers, with both of the top lines controlling play for nearly their entire shifts. The third line got the best of chances when Kevin Bahl sent it on goal, leading to a scramble by the goal — but Tatar’s follow-up on the blocked shot did not go. Vitek Vanecek made his first save about three minutes in when Siegenthaler turned over a breakout pass, leading to a wide-angled shot from the boards being gloved by Vitek.

After the Devils had a bit of a rough shift, they turned play around — and Dougie Hamilton beat Alexis Lafreniere down the ice to secure an icing call. On the faceoff, Erik Haula deflected a point shot past Igor Shesterkin with Jesper Boqvist right in the mix too! Haula’s 10th goal came off an assist from Dougie Hamilton, with Jonas Siegenthaler picking up the secondary. 1-0, Devils.

The Devils only seemed to up the pressure on the Rangers following their go-ahead goal. Nico Hischier had a great chance in front of Shesterkin off a feed from Timo Meier which was just barely turned aside. At one point, the Devils also held Panarin’s line back for what felt like a minute and a half. The Rangers did threaten a bit, but they mostly relied on point shots. Adam Fox sent a shot for a redirection with eight minutes to play, but Vitek made the save in a sprawl. Going back the other way, Bratt stepped around a defender and set up Hamilton. Dougie’s first shot was blocked, but his second was just barely saved. The Hughes line continued the attack, as Jack Hughes danced around Alexis Lafreniere by the blueline to keep the pressure on. Hughes sent it wide through traffic, but he was set up at the netside awhile later on a one-touch shovel shot that was just squeezed by Shesterkin.

K’Andre Miller took the first penalty of the game when he lost his stick in Jesper Bratt’s skates while trying to deliver a hit. The hit was fine, but the trip was called — and the Devils went to the power play with about four minutes to play in the period. The Devils’ top unit had nice puck movement to start, but they were not shooting. The first attempt came in the second minute — and then Timo Meier whacked a one-timer from the slot past Shesterkin! 2-0, Devils! Barclay Goodrow gave a lift on the shot with his stick as well. Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier got the assists on this goal.

Erik Haula took a tripping call when Vincent Trocheck spun away from him at the blueline. Zibanejad, Kreider, Panarin, Fox, and Kane were on the Rangers’ top unit. Adam Fox faked Ryan Graves out on an end-to-end rush, and Vitek made a big save on Fox while Fox went crashing into him, knocking the net off. The Devils cleared off the next draw. Fox’s one-timer was gloved by Vanecek at the end of the first unit’s time. Later, after a Rangers shot went wide, Dawson Mercer and Jesper Boqvist had a partial two-on-one as Tarasenko went racing back. Mercer took the shot, and Shesterkin got it with the glove. Sharangovich shot off the draw, but Shesterkin got that one too. With the penalty killed, the period ended with the Devils up 2-0. They also led the shot battle 14-8, and showed plenty of physicality throughout the period.

Second Period

The Devils were all smiles coming out for the period as they looked to up their lead from the moment the puck dropped for the period. Neither of the top lines could get any good chances in the opening minutes of this period, but the Rangers were rather unable to get any pressure in their counterattacks. Still, New York was relying on point shots to get rubber on net. After one of those point shots, Tomas Tatar led the Devils the other way and made an absolute fool of Braden Schneider and squeezed the puck between Shesterkin’s legs. However, Igor turned his legs to keep the puck out of the net.

The Rangers did start to get some forechecking pressure on the Devils after that. Nonetheless, the Devils were able to handle the puck and make passes through tight windows to avoid the Rangers getting a really good chance on Vanecek. Past the halfway point of the period, Jacob Trouba took a holding call when Hischier was about to blow by him to a loose puck in the neutral zone. Nico had Mercer as the two-on-one option, but shot it wide.

On the power play, the second unit started. After a clear, the Devils took possession in their offensive zone. The first shot was gloved by Shesterkin, off Haula’s stick from the top of the circle. The top unit came on for the afterwards. Hughes had a hard shot fought off, and Dougie averted a Kreider shorthanded chance. Hamilton had a one-timer blocked by Tyler Motte. Right after the penalty expired, Erik Haula went back to the box for tripping...Vincent Trocheck. The Rangers went back to their power play, with Hishcier winning the draw back to John Marino. Graves backhanded a pass back to Marino, who failed to clear it, as Sharangovich lost the puck at the blueline. After the Rangers got the puck down low, Graves banked the puck from the low slot off a body, and it went right to Chris Kreider. 2-1.

Vitek Vanecek made a few nice saves to keep the lead. The Devils just did not have the same jump at this point that they had in the early stages of the period. Thankfully, the Rangers did not make anything of a chance where Vitek lost track of the puck with everyone swarming around him. It looked like Severson might have stopped the puck from getting into the open net. Later, Severson averted a neutral zone odd-man rush when he cut up the middle to stop Lafreniere from taking advantage of a bad pass to the blueline from Palat. Through two periods, the Devils still led 2-1, while the shots stood at 24-15, Devils.

Third Period

The Rangers iced the puck off the draw. Nico Hischier won the offensive zone draw, and they were largely held to the boards until Jack Hughes’ line came onto the ice. Play was decidedly much slower at the outset of this period with multiple stoppages interrupting game action. The Devils iced the puck two minutes into the period, and Erik Haula lost the draw to Filip Chytil — and Vanecek had to be sharp with the threat of redirections from the point. Tomas Tatar led the Devils the other way, spinning into a backhand that gave Shesterkin trouble. Hamilton uncorked a shot of his own that bounced high off the Rangers’ goalie’s pads as well. Vitek Vanecek, later on, made a huge save on Vincent Trocheck when Patrick Kane set him up going to the net, getting the pad out when Trocheck was in all alone for a backhand.

A few minutes later, the teams got into another scrum when Jacob Trouba went for Dawson Mercer after Vanecek made a big stop on a rush chance. Palat came from behind to send Trouba to the ice, and both teams converged, and the referee did not call Palat for a penalty.

The Devils looked very strong down the stretch. Of all people, Michael McLeod gave Shesterkin issues on a couple occasions — and Graves had a shot go off the post — and the Devils did a great job of getting in front of shots and not letting the Rangers get the middle of the ice. With 1:44 to play, the Rangers got an offensive zone draw off a puck out of play.

Gerard Gallant called timeout and pulled Igor Shesterkin, sending out Fox, Zibanejad, Kreider, Tarasenko, Kane, and Panarin. The Devils sent out Hischier, Haula, Mercer, Graves, and Marino. The Rangers won the puck off a bouncing faceoff. Fox missed the net with a shot, and Vitek Vanecek made a kick save after about a half-minute of puck movement, and Marino iced it. After the next draw, the Rangers thought they scored when the puck got through Vitek — but Graves swept it away from Tarasenko! And the net came off, giving another faceoff, with Tatar replacing Haula.

Tatar, with help from Hischier, worked the puck into the offensive end on a dump, and the Rangers dumped as well. Panarin shot it high over the net and it went down the ice. After the Rangers got it back in, Ryan Graves cleared it again! But the referee called icing with 3.8 to play. One more shot from Lafreniere went high and wide, and the Devils won 2-1!

The Game Stats: The Game Summary | The Event Summary | The Play by Play Log | The Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats

The Opposition Opinion: Go check out Blueshirt Banter on their new site.

Checking Back in on the Defense

After the Devils’ loss against the Islanders, I was very unhappy with the Devils’ defensemen, especially Ryan Graves and John Marino. While Ryan Graves continued to make mistakes tonight in the first two periods, I thought Marino had an improved game throughout. For example, Marino made a great play early on to stop Zibanejad from getting a chance in close on Vanecek, and I thought he handled himself well in the offensive zone.

Perhaps most importantly, though, Ryan Graves had a huge late third period performance. On the other hand, Ryan Graves continued to make bad plays with the puck in the first 40 minutes and got the Devils into more trouble than they should have been in at times. From my point of view, it was Graves’ unconventionality with the puck on the penalty kill that hurt them in the second period, which led to the Kreider goal. He was much more decisive when the Rangers had their empty net, not wasting a moment with the puck when it got to him. This was huge! He made mistakes and knew how to get better to seal the victory. I can only hope this type of attitude keeps on rolling in the Devils’ next game.

Even Effort

While the Devils’ second period seemed rough to me, by the end of the game I felt like every player who was on the ice contributed to the win. Really, it’s nice to be able to say I have no pressing complaints or concerns about the way they played. They outshot, outhit, and outskated the Rangers. Really, the only Rangers players I felt really gave Devils regular fits were K’Andre Miller, who is a fantastic defenseman (and a great skater at his size) and Igor Shesterkin. The Devils ate the Ben Harpur — Braden Schneider pairing alive tonight, and Adam Fox really did not have a good game either. Only four Rangers finished with a good xGF% — Trouba, Goodrow, Vesey, and Motte. And Goodrow only contributed to the Devils’ power play goal. The “Kid Line” looked awful. Tarasenko, Zibanejad, and Kreider had their moments, but something didn’t click often enough to make them as dangerous as they should be. Panarin was too focused on trying to be physical and was not his usual offensive self. Perhaps best of all to my eyes, I thought Patrick Kane was invisible offensively (though not a lot seemed to happen in general when he was on the ice).

On the other side of things, Timo Meier played a fantastic game. I think his example of throwing hits whenever possible rubbed off on his teammates, which got under the Rangers’ skin. One time, the Rangers were so focused on giving some back to Nico Hischier that they left the puck for Timo to skate right into the dangerous scoring areas. And for what it’s worth, I think the referees did a good job of judging the third period and not giving out any killer calls to either side, even though both teams could have been called for interferences or post-whistle roughings at various points. It just wasn’t enough that I thought it was worth calling and influencing the game’s outcome. And it’s always great to see Timo score. He’s had a lot of chances, but the points have not come consistently yet. I think he can get there — when there’s a will, a guy as big and fast as Timo Meier will find a way.

Last, but not least, I want to congratulate Vitek Vanecek on becoming the second Devils goaltender in history to win 30 games in the season, as he joins Martin Brodeur in the exclusive club. He was amazing for the Devils tonight, and came very close to a shutout if not for a bad decision on the PK combined with an unlucky bounce. I think the rest this week has been good for him, because he was moving more sharply than usual tonight: he was on point and deserves the love.

The Playoff Matchup and Your Thoughts

Of course, the Devils and Rangers should be playing each other in the first round, unless the Carolina Hurricanes start losing a lot more than everyone expects they will. This was just a taste, therefore, of what’s to come. Now’s a better time than any to start talking about how we think the Devils match up against the Rangers. That aside...

What did you think of tonight’s game? Did you have fun watching? Who did you think stepped up the most tonight? Did anyone surprise you with their play? How did you think the Rangers played? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.