Dougie Hamilton became the hero of last night at the World’s Most Overrated Arena, Madison Square Garden.
The New Jersey Devils went into Manhattan down 0-2 in the playoff series to Our Hated Rivals. Also known as the New York Rangers. The Devils were crushed in both games with 1-5 losses despite all of the grit the Devils showed off instead of something resembling their game. In Game 3, the Devils still took a lot of dumb penalties but laying off some of the attention to throw hits to play some hockey helped. Still, the offense was flummoxed beyond the first period with a mere 12 shots total after an 11-shot first period. But Akira Schmid, a perfect penalty kill, Artemi Panarin missing big-time, meant a 1-1 game would lead to overtime. The Devils needed a win in Game 3 to have shot in this series. Thanks to Dougie Hamilton, Jesper Bratt, and Nico Hischier, they got what they needed.
Hamilton scored on Shesterkin in overtime for the Devils’ first playoff win since Game 3 in 2018, to continue the longest running streak in the NHL for most playoff series without being swept, and to give the Devils a renewed hope in this series. Win Game 4 and it becomes a Best of 3 with potential home ice advantage again. How did Hamilton do it? Did Bratt and Hischier deserve those assists? Did Dawson Mercer do anything? This post will answer those questions and more through this breakdown the play picture-by-picture.
The Game Situation
- Overtime in Game 3 against Our Hated Rivals, who won the first two games of the series.
- On-ice Situation: 5-on-5 hockey.
- Score was 1-1.
- The goal was scored 11:36 into overtime, or with 8:24 in overtime.
- The New Jersey Devils on the ice: #40 Akira Schmid, #7 Dougie Hamilton, #71 Jonas Siegenthaler, #91 Dawson Mercer, #13 Nico Hischier, #63 Jesper Bratt
- The Our Hated Rival Players on the ice: #31 Igor Shesterkin, #23 Adam Fox, #55 Ryan Lindgren, #14 Tyler Motte, #21 Barclay Goodrow, #10 Artemi Panarin
- If you want a recap of the game as a whole, .
The Video of the Goal
From NHL.com, here is the full video of the goal. The beginning of the play is a bit blurry, but the clip shows the play from the Devils’ end of the rink to the puck going into the net and the subsequent celebration.
All screen captures in this breakdown are from this video. Multiple angles are used. Text, shapes, and poorly drawn arrows and lines are from me using Microsoft Paint.
The breakdown begins with Tyler Motte. He mishandled a rim around the boards. Jesper Bratt targeted him for a hit just as Motte recovered the puck. Nico Hischier is up a bit in the defensive zone in case Motte wanted to pass it back to the point. Dawson Mercer has the outlet covered, with Dougie Hamilton lurking towards the corner apart from Barclay Goodrow. It is a good situation for the Devils in the defensive zone. With Bratt about to make contact, Motte will reverse the rim - basically play the puck around the corner.
Hamilton chipped the reversed puck. It continued on its path, but slowed down. This allowed Jonas Siegenthaler to be in a position to collect the puck behind the net. This is important as Jimmy Vesey was following Siegenthaler from behind. Meanwhile, Barclay Goodrow had shifted his focus to Hamilton. Mercer remained in a position to observe and adjust accordingly. Still a good position for the Devils.
Look at Siegenthaler’s skates. He used his right skate to protect the puck from going further and to block it off from any back pressure. Such as the back pressure from Vesey applied in this moment in time. Hamilton is about to move past both - which is crucial in a moment. Goodrow remained focused on #7 and will follow Hamilton.
With how Siegenthaler protected the puck, he was able to get it away from him and Vesey and to Hamilton passing by. Goodrow picked up his pace to try to close the gap on Hamilton. Whether he intended to engage or just force Hamilton to make a play does not matter much. Hamilton knows he needed an option and fast with Goodrow trying to reach his stick in. Mercer, who has been in the middle and open, is such an option. He will move towards the near-side circle.
While that all happened, Motte came out of the hit from Bratt and started to head across the ice. He saw the puck shift to the other side. He saw Mercer without any kind of pressure. Motte, at this point, was hustling hard to try to get to where he thinks Mercer will go. Motte will be right about that. Bratt, on the other hand, is going to start heading out of the zone. A common sight under the Devils’ system in the regular season; looking to help facilitate a quick exit by being a future option. He will be right about that too. Meanwhile, Vesey is behind the net still with Siegenthaler. This will become a problem for OHR in a bit.
Hamilton passed the puck up to the near-side dot up to Mercer. This shot showed Mercer with his head up. While it looks like he has a lot of space, he really does not. I do not think he knows that Motte was coming his way or that Goodrow would curl to turn up ice. I do think he knows he wants to move it up and out. With Adam Fox - the man in the corner - where he was in this moment, Mercer was not in a position to chip it off the boards for the exit. He will make the right decision. As this was happening, Bratt is heading out of the zone and Nico Hischier is already in the neutral zone.
One of the principals of the Devils strategy under Lindy Ruff was attempting quick zone exits to create opportunities in transition. You are seeing in this photo the genesis of one of them. Motte reversed a rim, Hamilton and Siegenthaler denied that to win the puck, and Mercer can make one happen in this moment.
The right decision by Mercer: chipping the puck up and out. He lobbed the puck out of the zone into space. With Fox by the left point (Schmid’s left) and Ryan Lindgren not even in the zone, this was the best way to get the puck out of the Devils’ end of the rink. Bratt was pushing forward and, again, Hischier was already in the neutral zone. Mercer followed this pitchfork clearance by skating ahead. Motte tried his best to deny Mercer but he was just too late with his stick check. Goodrow, to the right of the bottom hashmarks, recognized that he needs to get going and will pick up his own pace. Vesey, uh, did not. Keep that in mind.
Mercer’s lob made it all the way to the redline. What was more was that Hischier was in position to retrieve it. He grabbed it down and legally dropped the puck to play it with his stick, which is seen in this photo. Hischier could now acknowledge that Bratt was coming through and could play him into the space I circled.
This moment captures what the Devils have not been able to do in this series so far: a transition play with space available for Devils skaters to attack with speed. Bratt was cruising up ice. If Lindgren was ever in the Devils’ zone on this play, he backed out a long time ago. He was the last defender and became the only OHR player who can do something about Bratt - who is multiple tens of feet away from him. Fortunately for Lindgren, his partner is former Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox. Fox is smart. Instead of taking the risk of trying to crack Hischier, which could leave Lindgren alone with Bratt, Fox continued to skate back. This will support Lindgren and make the situation a little tougher for Bratt.
Hischier’s pass into that space was perfect for Bratt to collect the puck in stride. Bratt now gains the offensive zone. Lindgren dropped back but has his eyes locked on Bratt. Bratt became Lindgren’s man. Fox, who was dropping back, looked behind him to survey his potential support. This means he sees three things. One is Nico Hischier. After the pass, Hischier made the decision to follow Bratt but from behind. This way, if Lindgren gets up on Bratt or blocks his way, then he could be an option for Bratt to pass the puck away. That would be made possible by this decision instead of just skating ahead. By the way, skating ahead in this moment was Mercer and Motte. Motte stuck to Mercer since the attempted stickcheck. Mercer will just keep going forward and Motte will be with him.
The second thing Fox must have seen was Barclay Goodrow. He got on his horse and galloped his way up ice to make up a lot of ground on this play.
The third thing, well, he must have seen Vesey get to the bench. It was not until writing this that I thought to look up Vesey’s shift times. According to the NHL shift report, he got off at 8:31. Artemi Panarin replaced him. It is a long change in overtime, so the OHR bench was next to their offensive zone. Vesey figured he was at the end of his shift so he went off. Panarin, coming on, must have seen Fox and Lindgren already back, Motte on Mercer, and Goodrow flying up ice. This would explain why Panarin was not hustling back on this play. This would become A Major Problem in a few seconds.
Bratt was one-on-one with Lindgren, one of the better defenders on OHR. Like Jonas Siegenthaler. Bratt must have seen the stray stick by the far-side boards, so Bratt correctly decided to cut towards the middle. Bratt also correctly shifted his stick to keep the puck far away from his body to keep it away from Lindgren stepping up. All while keeping the puck under his control.
However, it is not a favorable situation for Bratt. He needed help at this moment. While Lindgren was happy to let Bratt cut toward the middle, he is locked on him with a good enough gap of space to keep Bratt from trying to beat him straight up. Fox, who Bratt definitely saw, was dropping back further in the slot. While Mercer had the inside position on him, Motte was right with him as the young forward just kept going forward. So Mercer was not really available for a pass and Bratt was, for at least a moment, in a 1-on-2 situation. Where is the help?
The help appeared to be Nico Hischier. He followed Bratt into the zone. It looked like this would be the right move. A pass back to Hischier just as Lindgren stepped up on Bratt and tried to knock the puck away. Credit to Bratt for keeping the puck away from Lindgren just enough to keep it from his stretched out stick. Credit to Bratt also for not trying to force a pass to Mercer. While he got ahead of Motte and his stick is free, that would be a very difficult pass given Lindgren’s stick and Fox’s position in the slot.
By the way, if Fox was standing still, then that would have helped him and his teammates for what will happen in a second. But his progress toward the slot kept going, which will put him deeper - and away from the play about to happen.
Just as Bratt tried to step up a pass for Hischier, Goodrow flew into the picture. The forward may not be all that skilled but he knew full well he needed to go after Bratt to help Lindgren. By hustling hard, he could have a shot at denying a pass to Hischier or taking the puck away from Bratt. In this moment it looked like a pass to Hischier was possible and possibly what Bratt wanted to do. But with Goodrow’s incoming presence, the captain is not much of an option. Plus, even if Bratt did pass it off to the captain, Hischier would have to go around Lindgren and Bratt only for a fairly easy shooting angle that Igor Shesterkin could stop. With Fox back, a cut to the middle would not be a legitimate idea. And Motte was stuck to Mercer.
When I took this screenshot, I asked to myself: Where’s Vesey? Again, he went off for Panarin. But after seeing Motte and Goodrow - who had about the same shift length as Vesey would - backcheck as they did, the change was about to become a terrible idea. Vesey was slow to react after Siegenthaler kept the puck and moved it to Hamilton behind the Devils net. This would keep OHR from having all five men back, which was something they have intentionally done in this series to suffocate the Devils’ offense. Still, in this picture, there are three Devils and four of them. But Bratt is about to open things up and make Vesey’s absence and Panarin’s absence problematic.
Goodrow came in hard and Bratt deftly kept the puck away from him. He just touched the puck away from him while keeping it in a space that only Bratt could get to. Like a matador with a bull, Bratt effectively went “Ole” and Goodrow missed his chance to get the puck away from Bratt. Bratt’s move also made space away from Lindgren, who now has to make up a new gap in space while changing his direction and skates. This necessary hestation only made it easier for Bratt to pull away while regaining possession. To Goodrow’s credit, he does not simply skate away into oblivion. After missing Bratt, he locked onto Hischier.
While Bratt freed himself up, the next move for him will be to go into the space that is available and turn around to put the puck on his forehand and be able to survey his options. Of which he has none. Mercer got behind Motte and Fox, but he was not at all open. Hischier was not open either. In this moment in time, it looked like OHR is still fine. It was actually the beginning of the end for Game 3.
As Bratt turned around, Dougie Hamilton has entered the picture. This is another thing the Devils have demonstrated a lot under Lindy Ruff but have not been able to do in this series: activate defensemen. Whether it was a decision to play back to prevent counter-attack rushes by OHR or a result of failing to maintain the puck on offense long enough to have it happen or a consequence of not rushing up, Devils defensemen have not been able to join the attack enough in this series for potential offensive opportunities like this one. Hamilton came in through the middle of the neutral zone, saw four OHR players back and the fifth one just in the neutral zone, and found a whole lot of open space. After Bratt got the puck away from Goodrow, Hamilton knew he had to go away from Bratt but ahead of the other skaters to be an option for the Devils winger. Hamilton correctly headed toward the far-side circle.
Bratt, at this point, has turned around and ensured the puck was fully in his control. Lindgren’s turn and slow reaction to what happened meant Bratt is effectively all alone. While Lindgren was in the slot, he will move towards Bratt. He is still Lindgren’s man on the play. This also removed a Blueshirt from the down-low situation. A situation where Mercer is behind Motte and Fox, A situation where Hischier has inside position on Goodrow. A situation where the OHR players and Shesterkin are all looking at Bratt and the puck and not the activating 6’6” point-machine named Dougie Hamilton.
Imagine if Vesey did not change and kept an eye on Hamilton. Or if Panarin picked him up after coming onto the ice. Anyway.
Lindgren was now out of the play entirely. He locked onto Bratt and by the time he entered the circle, Bratt passed the puck across to Hamilton. It was a very good pass. Hamilton received it perfectly. It went across the Royal Road while OHR were about to take the offramp to Losing Town. The image shows four skaters against four skaters but you can see that Hamilton has the leverage here. Everyone’s focus shifted to Hamilton, who is far away enough from the defenders but close enough to the net to be dangerous. Shesterkin went down and now had to go post-to-post. Fox and Motte are watching but cannot step up because they are too far away and have to respect Mercer on the inside. And Hischier too as Goodrow changed his attention to Hamilton. But the veteran forward will not try to make a hero play to deny Hamilton coming in.
No, the veteran forward decided to try to be his own goalie. He is trying to do a Carlos Coronel impersonation instead of trying to close the gap on Hamilton to make a potential shot harder. I switched to this replay view from the video to better highlight Goodrow’s decision to just stay in place but somehow try to make himself bigger. If Hamilton shot the puck at this moment, this might have worked. But Hamilton will delay just a half-second for a way better opening.
Especially as Shesterkin was also in an awkward position. He got to his left post, but he is down in a butterfly formation. He did not look like Patrick Roy here. More like the myriad of goaltenders coming out of the QMJHL in the 1990s that all played like Roy outside of Martin Brodeur. A hybrid position would have been the better move for the goaltender instead of a butterfly formation with his glove close to his body. What Hamilton saw at this moment was space over Shesterkin’s shoulders as well as the post not being fully covered. A near-post shot would be a challenge, but a high one would work.
I also switched to this view to show how far away Panarin was on this play. You could criticize him for not backchecking hard when he started his shift. However, when he came on the ice, his teammates appeared to have Bratt handled well and they had a numbers advantage. Then again, a lot can - and did - change in a few seconds. You would think the veteran forward in overtime would not assume his teammates would handle the situation. Likewise, you would think if Vesey had to get off the ice, then he would have made a more concerted effort. Alas, Panarin will get a minus all the same for a play he literally was not involved in.
Goodrow commits the sin of a goaltender in a one-on-one situation: making the first move. He decided to kick his left skate out and sprawl out. Which would be good if Hamilton was shooting the puck low. But he saw Shesterkin already down in a butterfly and netting open above his shoulders. Not to mention that he is Dougie Hamilton. A man who scored 22 goals this season and has 137 season goals and 8 playoff goals. He has the ability to wire a high shot. Elevate, Dougie, elevate!
And by elevating the shot, Hamilton hit the middle post in the net with the puck ricocheting inside the right post. Shesterkin’s glove was too late. Goodrow is accidentally posing for a painting after his failed blocking attempt. Motte and Fox were too occupied and far away to do anything. Hischier’s assist was legitimatized. Bratt’s assist was legitimatized and crucial. Hamilton was indeed the hero of the night and a real human being.
The Lessons to Learn
Our Hated Rivals made a number of not-so-bad mistakes that led to a big failing. Motte’s reversal being intercepted. Vesey sticking way too long with Siegenthaler. Vesey not changing fast enough and Panarin not joining in as Hamilton entered the picture. Fox dropping back in the zone to take him away from the play. Goodrow getting ole’d by Bratt. Lindgren taking himself out of the play by going towards Bratt instead of trying to dare Bratt to fire a puck through a heap of bodies. Goodrow trying to play goalie. Shesterkin going down into a butterfly. On their own, each were not killers. Combined, they doomed themselves to a loss on their own rink.
The Devils also demonstrated why they really need to work to find their actual game. This whole play was something we, the People Who Matter, have seen all season long for a lot of success and wins. A defensive stop leading to a zone exit with real transitional opportunities. Bratt did not head up ice after his check because he felt like it. That was by design. As was Hischier in the neutral zone well before Mercer lobbed the puck out. As was Mercer just skating to the net and Hamilton following the action after making plays deep in their own end. While it was not an odd man rush, the Devils acted and played quickly to find spaces to attack Our Hated Rivals. They did so and it succeeded. The Devils absolutely need to find ways to make these kinds of plays more often if they want their offense to return to resembling what they did in the season and, oh yeah, score some goals to win these important games. This goal was the result of the Devils executing their kind of game.
Gerard Gallant knew all too well that this sort of thing could burn his team, so he has had his team play very conservative hockey in all three games. Centers dropping in deep, defensemen moving back instead of staying at the points to keep offensive shifts going in case a quick exit does happen, and a lot of pressure on puck carriers entering OHR’s zone such that a trailing Devil cannot get involved. If John Tortorella preached “Safe is death” about two decades ago, then Gallant has been preaching “Safe is living” in this series. To a lot of success given the first two games and keeping the Devils to 12 shots in regulation after an 11-shot first period. That said, if a player is slow in changing or a player misses on a defensive effort or a player is too locked onto their man instead of denying what could happen, then the team will falter. This goal was the result of that.
Lastly, I want to highlight that this was very much an end-to-end effort from all five Devils. To summarize:
- This all started with a check on Motte by Bratt. No, not a hit to try to show how tough he is or let the OHR know they are there. A simple hit to force Motte to make what would be a not-so-good decision.
- Siegenthaler had the least to do on this play, but his protection of the puck and his little dish to Hamilton behind the net would create the zone exit that led to the goal.
- Mercer, who has done very little of note all series, made a great clearance. Even if Hischier did not get it or Fox recovered it in the neutral zone, he made the exit and with three OHR forwards in deep, there would have been no quick restart as they would have to get back onside. Mercer followed that by simply going to the net, which took Motte with him for the length of the rink and also attracted Fox to keep him away from helping Lindgren.
- Hischier gloved down Mercer’s clearance, put the puck down in a way where he only he could get it, and simply made a good read to effectively play Bratt into the zone. Hischier followed Bratt to be a passing option. When that did not happen, he went to the net, which attracted Goodrow and, later, Motte in front. Just by going to the net, Hischier and Mercer kept the attention of multiple OHR players away from getting to Bratt or, eventually, Hamilton.
- Bratt was the subject of a lot of criticism and frustration throughout the game. Yes, he could have done better on a shot in the third period after dodging Jacob Trouba’s penguin slide. Yes, he did not get all of a sweet pass in OT on what could have been a winning goal. Yes, he was largely anonymous in the first two games. I disagree. Bratt had his working skates on from shift #1 of this game, where he nearly broke away on the first shift and drew a penalty from Kane. He was knocked down and still made a pass to keep an attack going. He kept trying to make plays and even if he fell short, that was much more involved in Game 3 compared with Games 1 and 2. His puck protection to keep the puck away from Lindgren was excellent. His touch away from Goodrow was wonderful in that it denied Goodrow a break-up or steal and got him away from Lindgren and put him in a position to make a patient read of the situation and the right play. His pass to Hamilton looked easy but his hard work to create it just as crucial.
- Hamilton scored the goal. More than that, he made the zone exit possible to begin with. He skated through the neutral zone. Knowing Goodrow was already focused on getting back in the play and Vesey/Panarin were not, Hamilton knew he could activate if the Devils could keep the puck in the zone. I would like to think he really pushed up when Bratt got away from Goodrow. The decision to activate was 100% correct and Hamilton went to the right spot on the ice for a pass from Bratt. It forced OHR to shift sides quickly. His short delay after Shesterkin came across to let Goodrow make the first move while recognizing where Shesterkin could be beat was critical. The shot was exactly what it needed to be. The best ending possible for what was a 200-foot shift for Dougie Hamilton.
If nothing else, recognize that the play matched the Devils’ identity from this season and it took all five Devils contributing something to make this all possible against an Our Hated Rivals team that made just enough non-good decisions and plays to be punished.
That is the goal breakdown of Hamilton’s overtime winner in Game 3. I apologize for the slight lateness of this post. Now that you read and saw how it happened, I want to know what you think of it. How do you think the Devils can have more plays like this one in 5-on-5 hockey? What was your favorite part of the play? What could and should have Our Hated Rivals done differently that they thankfully did not? How perfect was Hamilton’s shot? Did you apologize to Bratt if you were giving him grief during the game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on this breakdown of the Hamilton’s overtime winner in the comments. Thank you for reading.