The term “must win” gets thrown around a bit loosely in sports, and perhaps that’s even this case with this article about tonight’s game for our New Jersey Devils. However, while a loss tonight does not eliminate the team from the postseason, I still think it can be classified as a “must win” situation. Between the momentum currently being carried in, as well as the fact that the Devils will need at least one win on home ice to advance, tonight really is the game they need to take in order to help clinch this first round series.
The first two games of this postseason were forgettable, as in we’re all still doing our best to forget they happened. The Devils looked like a young, scared team that didn’t belong in the postseason. There were a couple of moments as well where Vitek Vanecek got beat on shots you’d like to see your goalie stop, which only compounded the already apparent issues from the defense in those games. The offense was inept as well, managing just two goals, and none of them at even strength.
Games 3 and 4 though? Night and day difference; the Devils showed up, played tight, close hockey games, and in each one outplayed Our Hated Rivals while finding a way to secure the win. The scoring hasn’t improved all that much, although the Devils did tally their first three even strength (four if you count the empty netter) goals of the series. The defense, however, has been much better, and that’s in part to a more focused (and/or less nervous) group of defenders along with better support from the forwards. The biggest difference maker though? Akira Schmid. I said that he should have started Game 2 and while it took a second blowout for him to see ice time, he has been nothing short of sensational with a save percentage of .966 so far.
If the Devils do win tonight? You have to imagine Our Hated Rivals question if they have a chance of even winning Game 6 on home ice. You think they’ll be questioning if they can get more than one puck per game past Schmid. They may even decide that they need to try and change how they’re playing, leading to more opportunities for the Devils to use their speed or gain an odd-man situation. I don’t foresee a goalie change from OHR, but they could change some personnel and get lesser results, unlike when we decided to finally start icing some better lineups.
With the momentum in their corner, the fans on their side, and the knowledge and exuberance that comes from playoff wins, the Devils may now be a more complete team than when this series began. The hope now has to be that some of the rest of the forwards come alive on offense (Timo Meier and/or Dawson Mercer potting a goal or two would be nice), but as long as the defense and goaltending stay consistent, the Devils have a really good chance at taking this series. They need to win tonight on home ice; not only does it deflate the Rangers, but it pushes the series to the brink in our favor while also giving the Devils the confidence to finish the series away from home.
What are your thoughts on Game 5 tonight; do you think it is a must win as I do? Do you think the momentum becomes too much for OHR if the Devils do win? Does this game and/or series depend more on offense, defense, or Schmid? Is it Devils in 6 or Devils in 7? Leave any and all comments below, thanks as always for reading and LET’S GO DEVILS!