Akira Schmid Leads Undead New Jersey Devils To The Brink Of Round 2
A week ago at this time, the New Jersey Devils were staring at an 0-2 hole in their best-of-seven series against the New York Rangers after losing twice on home ice. Funny how things can change quickly, eh? Enter Akira Schmid. Now here we are a week later, and the Devils once again head into MSG, but this time they have a chance to eliminate their rivals in Game 6. Schmid the Kid, or Schmido the Torpedo as his mates call him, has been out-of-this-world since taking over in Game 3 for New Jersey: 3-0, 0.63 GAA, and a .976 save percentage.
Not even the biggest Devils fan could have or would have prognosticated that Schmid, who had 24 games of NHL experience (9-9-2) in the regular season, who held the Rangers to a measly two goals on 82 shots in Games 3, 4, and 5. If someone tells you they knew this would happen, they’re a liar.
The series is far from over, and we all know the fourth game is usually the hardest to win in a series, but there would have to be a dramatic shift in fortunes for things to stop trending the way they are.
“We just have to take it one game at a time,” Schmid said, digging into his bag of hockey cliches. “We can’t look too far ahead and have our emotions too high. You have to get lucky to win games sometimes, and today we got lucky a few times. The boys have been helping me out a lot.”
All of a sudden, the Devils don’t look young and jittery anymore. Now they are using their speed and hounding the Rangers all over the rink. They’re dictating the pace of play rather than reacting to how their opponent is playing. Welcome back, regular season Devils! Head Coach Lindy Ruff said after each of Schmid’s starts that inserting him into the lineup before Game 3 wasn’t an indictment of how Vitek Vanecek played in Games 1 and 2, but rather the team in front of him.
Maybe it’s the team trying harder with a younger goalie in net, or perhaps they just need a pair of games to adjust to the pace and intensity of playoff hockey. While Vanecek hasn’t played in the past three games, he has still been an impactful player as Schmid’s partner. If the Devils are to go on a deep run, they’ll likely need both goaltenders to contribute.
“I don’t think it’s because of me, but you can sense our team gaining confidence over the last three games,” Schmid said. “Vitek has been great (for me), super supportive. He makes me laugh all the time, so I stay loose and don’t get too nervous in my head. I appreciate having him as a goalie partner; the same with Blacky (Mackenzie Blackwood), too. They help me out a lot.”
I’ve said it before, written it before in this space – successful postseason teams need to get contributions from everywhere. That is exactly what has fueled New Jersey’s comeback in this series. Yes, Jack Hughes has three goals in five games, but it’s none other than Erik Haula leading the way with five points (3g-2a) in five games.
“This time of the year, it’s (about) determination, and I honestly think we could still do a better job getting in lanes (to block shots). They have some mobile defensemen back there,” Haula said about everyone buying in as a team. “We know we’re going to get their best (in Game 6), everything they’ve got.”
Their three game-winning goals have come from Dougie Hamilton, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Ondrej Palat. Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt have three assists apiece. Timo Meier is pointless but has 20 shots on goal, wasting no opportunity to hammer an opponent along the walls or in front of the crease. Every player who has played in the three consecutive wins has made a great contribution at one point or another.
“Each game, we’re giving ourselves more and more confidence,” defenseman John Marino said after Game 5, where he had five blocked shots and three takeaways throughout his team-leading 23:37 of ice time. “There are always things to learn from every game. We’re a young team that is gaining confidence every game (we play), and I’m excited to see where it goes.”
This Devils team is dangerous, and on any given night any given player could play the role of hero. So why not them? Man, what a difference a week makes.