The New Jersey Devils went into their first-round series with the New York Rangers with one clear advantage. The Rangers were dominant on the power play, Igor Shesterkin is one of the best goalies in the world, and the Rangers have stars abound. However, the Devils are one of, if not the best, 5v5 teams this season. There was nobody as dangerous at even strength.
Through two games in the Devils’ return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they seemed to completely move away from their game. Instead of using speed and skill to dominate the game, the Devils tried to play big and tough. It went terribly, and the Devils were playing about even with the Rangers at even strength.
It’s fine to play the more experienced team even, but that doesn’t work when playing a team with a power play as good as the Rangers. They are going to win the special teams game. The Devils need to win at even strength. That can’t happen when the Devils scored zero 5v5 goals through two games.
New Jersey Devils 5v5 play is key in New York Rangers series.
In the Devils first postseason win since 2018, they were dominant at even strength. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Devils had 15 5v5 high-danger chances. The Rangers had just 5. When equating the power play, the Rangers came close to even (the Devils somehow had zero high-danger chances with the man advantage), but the Devils got exactly what they needed from their main units.
It took overtime, but the Devils finally got their first 5v5 goal of the series. Jesper Bratt carried the puck into the zone, the Devils pushed the Rangers in on the net, and it opened things up for Dougie Hamilton to walk in and score.
The Devils evened the series by playing the style of hockey that got them here. They were all over the Rangers. The Devils made the dirty areas their home. There were plenty of passes up the ice, they seemed to adjust to what they were given, and they never allowed chances that were too scary. Akira Schmid was in net for his first-ever playoff game, so the Devils defense knew they had to step up.
The Devils did a good job of spreading the Rangers chances all over the ice. Outside of the power play, the Rangers couldn’t get underneath. They didn’t get odd-man rushes. All the issues that gave the Rangers scoring opportunities in Games 1 and 2 didn’t rear their ugly heads in Game 3.
If the Devils have any chance at winning the series, they need to dominate even-strength play every game. It might not even be enough. They still only scored one goal at 5v5 on Saturday, and it happened in overtime. Shesterkin has been locked in, but the Devils know a blueprint to win.