After holding the New York Rangers off for the first few minutes of the game with some icings, Brendan Smith took the first penalty of the game for crosschecking five minutes into the game. This was an annoying call, and I thought there was embellishment on the play. More annoyingly, it felt like the Rangers were really just throwing whatever they could from long-range, so this provided them with more space to work with.
The Devils got an early clear, and later another one after Vitek Vanecek made a big stop on Patrick Kane that got the crowd going. Vanecek made another stop on Zibanejad's one timer after the Rangers rang a shot off the iron. This turned into a big early kill for the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils went to their first power play when Mikkola took a crosschecking call about halfway through. The first unit of the power play could not enter the zone and did not get a shot in their 48 seconds. Damon Severson got the first power play shot of the postseason with a clapper that was saved from the blueline. Erik Haula then shot it wide, and he almost banked the puck off Lindgren from the goal line. Damon Severson made a huge keep late in the power play off a draw, and the Devils got it through a screen for Erik Haula to bang home in the crease! 1-0 Devils!
HAULA AT YO BOY. HE GAVE US THE LEAD. pic.twitter.com/JxK3Kc6Wcw— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 21, 2023
Vitek Vanecek held the lead down in the following minutes, as the Rangers had a couple point blank chances that were saved by Vitek. With 40 seconds to play, Nathan Bastian took a boarding minor penalty in the offensive zone. Vitek froze the puck with 27 seconds left in the period, and Zibanejad fired one wide before Patrick Kane's low wrister was saved by Vitek. As the Devils went to the ice to clog up the crease area to stop a rebound goal, Adam Fox was penalized for roughing as the period expired.
This was a pretty good start. The Devils were slightly outshot and outchanced, but Vitek had settled in by the time the Rangers started to get good shots on goal. However, the big problem was the icings. I lost count after seven or eight, and the Devils iced it several times at the beginning and end of the period. While it might be better than a turnover, it did not make for fluid hockey.
Jack Hughes shot it quickly off the draw, but Igor Shesterkin got a piece of it. Dougie shot for a Nico tip, but it went wide. The Devils could not get anything going on their short power play, though. At even strength, four and a half minutes in, Patrick Kane got to the puck right by the net and got robbed by Vanecek. After Vitek went down to stop Kane from shooting a rebound at an open net, the Devils went the other way - and Hughes was robbed by Igor’s glove. The Rangers and Devils had some big collisions, and the Rangers tied the game on a point shot that got through a screen. 1-1. Tarasenko got the tip on the shot.
Miles Wood took a penalty for slashing a bit over eight minutes into the period when Artemi Panarin forgot to stay on his feet in the corner. John Marino got two clears in the first half minute, and the Devils kept the Rangers’ first unit mostly at bay - until they scored on another shot into a tip with under 20 seconds left on the penalty. 2-1, Rangers. Kreider scored the goal on a tipped shot from Kane.
The Devils went back to the power play when Jacob Trouba interfered with Timo Meier. This was another tacky call, but they probably felt obligated to practice some game management. This power play was terrible, as the Devils could not set up. A bad pass at the end went right to Trouba coming out of the box, and Vanecek had to make a big save on his partial breakaway with Severson backchecking.
With 4:41 to play, Timo Meier went off for holding when he sealed Zibanejad on the boards on a dump-in. John Marino cleared off the draw. Chris Kreider scored a weak netside goal when they entered, though. 3-1.
After the Devils had the better of play for the first six or so minutes of the period, Jesper Bratt had a terrible giveaway to Patrick Kane skating back into the neutral zone. Kane had Kreider on a two-on-one, and beat Vanecek with a backhand shot. 4-1. Just look at how Bratt killed their momentum for the rest of the game - he even helped Kane out a bit here.
With play slowed down, the Devils got tagged again as Damon Severson took a slashing call. The Devils were able to kill this one, but they let up a goal nonetheless at five-on-five. 5-1, on another weak defensive showing around the net, as Kaapo Kakko scored an extra dagger. With the Devils' effort from the early stages of this period completely faded, they were dead in the water.
After a fight between Schneider and McLeod, in which five Devils were given misconducts, the Devils went to the power play. Somehow. Immediately, Adam Fox and Timo Meier got into it and Meier was sent off the ice. Somehow, this got it to four-on-four. The referees did their best to delay play as much as possible, with only 18 seconds passing in a 5-1 game over the course of eight minutes.
With 2:38 to play, Erik Haula was called for slashing. As play wound down, the Rangers sat behind their net while a raucous “Devils suck” chant filled the air. If there was still red in the stands, I imagine it might have been something like “fire Lindy.” But there was only blue left as the Rangers walked out with a 2-0 series lead.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Blueshirt Banter.
Brendan Smith and Miles Wood Do Not Deserve Ice Time
After Game One, in which Miles Wood took an offensive zone penalty to give the Rangers a power play goal, many Devils fans hoped that Lindy Ruff would bench Wood for Game Two. Instead, Wood was promoted on the lines and ended up taking another offensive zone penalty. Did I think it was a good call? No. Did it lead to a power play goal? You bet it did. So now, Miles Wood has taken two killer penalties and provided nothing offensively or defensively to make up for it.
On the back end, Brendan Smith did his best to bring some physicality to the game. When the Devils were still winning, this was not unwelcome. Of course, he took a penalty as well in the first period, but worse - he was totally unequipped for battling back. When he was on the ice, the Rangers left him wide open because they knew the Devils would not pass to him. And, if they did, Brendan Smith was incapable of making good things happen. He can barely skate backwards to keep a puck in at the blueline.
Akira Schmid Must Start Game Three
Look, this game was not exactly Vitek Vanecek's fault. But when you're through two games, and your starting goaltender has given up nine goals - it's time to make a change. Akira Schmid was the best goaltender of the regular season in terms of how he performed on a per game level, and it's time to put some trust in the younger, more talented goaltender. Vanecek was very good in the first period, but he got beat too many times for such a low shot volume in the second period. Then, in the third, he needed to make a stop on Kane to keep the team in the game. He did not, and the Devils fell apart.
By comparison, the Devils barely challenged Igor Shesterkin in the second period, and not at all after Bratt's horrendous turnover in the third period. I don't want to see this team straggle along to 20-25 shots on Saturday. I want to see 20 shots in a single period. Hammer them, pepper them, throw the kitchen sink at Igor - just do whatever is necessary to score more than one goal.
I Hope They Listened Hard to Those Chants
The end of the game featured some of the loudest interjections from the contingent of fans in blue. After laying the "Igor's Better" chant in the middle of the third period after Vitek let up a couple more goals, they were loud with the "Devils suck" chants at the end of the game. They were loud, and Devils fans in red were nowhere to be seen or heard by this point of the night. While I was disappointed that Devils fans were not there to let the team hear their anger, Ruff should be ashamed of how loud his team let opposing fans get in the home building. Right before the early season win streak, Devils fans chanted "fire Lindy" loudly and fervently. Maybe the Devils picked up their game in response. Tonight, they heard a loud Devils crowd to start the game, and the Rangers leftovers to finish. On any night, it's unacceptable and embarassing.
What makes me so mad about a night like tonight is a lot of the veterans were terrible. Ondrej Palat was a turnover machine, and Brendan Smith was allergic to offense, as always. Tomas Tatar struggled away from Nico Hischier. The lines grew so unrecognizable and useless at times that the team looked like they just met each other for the first time last week. If this is what veteran experience brings, I'd rather see Palat on the fourth line or in the press box than on the ice with Jack Hughes.
Luke Hughes Must Play Game Three, or They Will Not Have the Energy to Win
Another move that could have given the team the energy to actually score goals would have been to play Luke Hughes instead of Brendan Smith tonight. That was never in the cards, as Luke did not even take warm-ups. But as only Damon Severson looked like a competent puck handler tonight on the back end, the Devils need someone else that can make the Rangers miss. That man is Luke Hughes. There is no way that Luke could be weaker in his own end or worse with his passing than each Devils left side defenseman was tonight. Nobody else can skate with his edges with the puck, though - nor is anyone as talented or creative as him back there. There's nothing left to lose - time to let him play.
What did you think of the game tonight? How disappointing was it? How did you feel about the referee show in the second half of the game? What should the lineup be on Saturday? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.