Saturday night's win for the Devils was a revelation, the biggest win for the franchise in more than a decade and a gutsy performance from the net on out. They stifled a Rangers power play that they had—unfortunately, due to their continuing march to the penalty box—provided ample opportunity to hurt them. They started to find ways to open up the play and scored a game-winner on a vintage bit of rush magic from Jesper Bratt and Dougie Hamilton. Through a gutsy effort backed by a rookie goalie shining in the biggest of spotlights, the Devils found a way to carve out just enough to get themselves back in the series.
The Devils' fanbase, yours truly included, was very low on confidence heading into Game 3 of this series. When the Devils were ineffective on an early power play and then served one up to the Rangers shortly after, it was easy to feel like the ax was about to fall on this Devils squad. In keeping with a major theme of this series, the New Jersey penalty kill looked overmatched by the New York power play, and the Rangers generated multiple dangerous chances. This time, though, the Devils had a new goalie in the net, one that was about to seize an opportunity. Schmid shut the door on the Rangers on that power play, and the Devils seemed to immediately respond with a more confident brand of hockey.
They played a strong remainder of the first period, controlling play, even if they couldn't quite crack the Rangers' structure. In the second period, they wobbled at the start, again being stifled by the Rangers as they generated only one shot on goal over the opening nine minutes, and fell behind on a Chris Kreider rush goal just a few minutes in. They then served up a power play to the Rangers again immediately after and things looked grim. The Devils penalty kill started to find some form, though, and Schmid stopped the chances that came his way to keep in 1-0. Most playoff runs feature these moments on the brink, and whether you can stare them down and survive them dictates how long your team will last.
The Devils ended up on a power play of their own a few minutes later after Igor Shesterkin took a couple swings at Timo Meier after his own teammate pushed Meier on top of him. The Devils finally found a response on the power play and tied it with a Jack Hughes snipe. That goal was critical, the first real answer the Devils offered to any momentum swing in the Rangers’ direction this series. The defense from that point stiffened, and most critically, their goalie was up to the task of closing off the big chances the Rangers did generate. The penalty kill held up, despite the Devils getting 2005-06 interference rules applied to them over the final half of the game, leading to three more Rangers opportunities. The Devils’ penalty kill seemed to gain strength from each kill, though, culminating in a massive one to keep the game tied late in the third period.
Overtime was surprisingly wide open after a super tight third period, and the result was the Dougie Hamilton goal that will go into Devils lore as a key moment in this latest Devils-Rangers showdown, especially if the Devils can now build on this win to swing things in their favor. The Devils, in a tight-checking, even affair, finally fired their first volley of the postseason. The hope now is that the team can take this win as a jumping-off point to now put the Rangers on their heels.
The Devils have not been able to gain much of a foothold playing their own style so far in this series, but the goal that won Game 3 was undeniably exactly the type of play they punished opponents with all regular season. Bratt kept his options open after being played into space in the zone by Hischier and eventually found a streaking Dougie Hamilton wide open after having to improvise to keep the play going. The Devils looked the most like the 2022-23 Devils they have all series in the biggest moment possible. The door has now been cracked open for them.
Their task now in Game 4 is to blow that same door open by finding the creases in the Rangers 5v5 defense that they can exploit in that same way. For perhaps the first time in this entire series, they have the opportunity to really put the Rangers on their heels if they can seize the initiative tonight in Manhattan. The Rangers are a good defensive team, but they are not unbeatable. The Devils managed 3.5 goals per game against them in the regular season and were among the NHL’s most dominant 5v5 outfits.
Despite the catastrophes that unfolded in Games 1 and 2 at the Rock, they can fully hit the reset button on this series if they take tonight’s game. If ever there was a time to take over the way they did so many times in the regular season, this is it. It’s hard to expect another masterclass like Akira Schmid delivered on Saturday night, but with the Devils perhaps getting a boost of confidence from a goalie who looked every bit as stellar as his counterpart in blue, they can loosen up enough to make life much more difficult on Shesterkin.
Game 3 wasn’t the Devils at their best by any means, but it was them doing enough to get a win and showing themselves that they can actually meet this moment. It was playoff hockey at its purest, with a team finding a way to force its way off the ropes and deliver a counterpunch at a critical time. Now is the time for the Devils to take that momentum and land a haymaker in Game 4. They are due for a big performance and there will never be a better time to deliver their very best game of the season. With Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, and Dougie Hamilton all finding the scoresheet in Game 3 and Timo Meier clearly starting to get under some Rangers’ skin, the Devils’ big guns should feel some confidence heading into tonight's matchup and can hopefully create some space for their supporting cast to generate their own opportunities as well.
The Devils got themselves back into the series on Saturday, but their goal in these playoffs was not to be “in” this series, it was to win it. Tonight is pivotal for their chances to reach that goal. Let the seed of doubt they planted in the Rangers’ head in Game 3 bloom into a sudden crisis of confidence heading back across the Hudson. Again: the door is cracked, time to shove it open.