New Jersey Devils Dispatch New York stRangers in Game 7, Advance to Round 2

New Jersey Devils left wing Erik Haula (56) celebrates his goal: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
New Jersey Devils left wing Erik Haula (56) celebrates his goal: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports /

They could have folded after starting the series in an 0-2 hole. Not these New Jersey Devils. They could have folded after falling in an 0-1 hole in Game 3, or in overtime of Game 3. Nope, not these Devils. Even after winning Game 5 to take their first lead in the series, everyone expected the New York stRangers to win the next two games – especially after the 5-2 beating they put on New Jersey in Game 6. Again, not these Devils. These Devils won a Game 7 in convincing fashion against their biggest rival with the entire hockey world watching the game.

These Devils have shown us over the last two weeks (and really all season) that they are not to be doubted. They will find a way to band together and fight towards a common goal – the Stanley Cup. So why not these New Jersey Devils?

In their 4-0 Game 7 triumph over the stRangers (more on them later), it wasn’t even that close. Or at least it didn’t feel close. The young Devils, who had no real experience like this as a group, went out in Game 7 and had the time of their lives, using their speed and skill to outwork and skate circles around their rivals. They were fast, attacking, and supportive (shoutout to John Hynes!) and could’ve won 8-0 if not for Igor Shesterkin’s goaltending.

New Jersey built their team for this moment. Drafting Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Akira Schmid, Jesper Bratt, and Michael McLeod while sprinkling in a veteran presence in the forms of Ondrej Palat, Tomas Tatar, Erik Haula, and John Marino via trade and free agency. Meanwhile, the stRangers keep signing and trading for the over-the-hill veteran with little gas left in the tank or unable to keep up with the pace of the new NHL. Did anyone out there notice Artemi Panarin or Patrick Kane over the final few games of the series? I did when they turned the puck over. Again. And again. And again. What makes it worse is they don’t play much defense.

New Jersey Devils, Akira Schmid
Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers congratulates Akira Schmid of the Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

“Outstanding. Stone Cold Schmido. He just seems so patient in his crease. He was a big part of this series,” Tatar said of his team’s 22-year-old goaltender. “Coming in as a young goalie, it’s not easy, but he stood tall and gave us a chance (to win) every single night.”

These Devils became the first team in franchise history to beat the stRangers in a Game 7, and it was also Head Coach Lindy Ruff’s first Game 7 win as a bench boss. Funny how things work out, though. In Game 7, Hughes, Hischier, or Dougie Hamilton didn’t carry these Devils. Instead, goals from McLeod, Tatar, and Haula powered the offense, while Palat and Marino made two of the most clutch passes you will ever see in a Game 7, and each finished with two helpers.

“We’re all athletes. We’re all competitors. When you put that sweater on…you believe,” Haula would say after the win. “You compete, and you do everything to win. I’m not in the business of talking about expectations. I knew we had it in us pretty early on in the season to have a chance at the postseason. That’s the first step, and getting through the first round is hard.”

New Jersey Devils
Erik Haula #56 of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Haula led the team with six points (4g-2a). Playoff Palat was worth the wait – (2g-3a) in the series. Only five players on the team (who played in at least two games) didn’t have a point in the series. Imagine telling someone that New Jersey would advance past their rivals with zero points from Timo Meier. They’d say – not these Devils. Imagine telling someone after the first two games of the series that it’d go seven games and the stRangers wouldn’t score another goal on Prudential Center ice. They’d say – not these Devils.

Despite the split crowd between red and blue, as Game 7 wore on and the outcome became more certain over the final 40 minutes of play, these Devils fans roared every time the boys in red and black cleared the defensive zone. The players heard you loud and clear.

“It was a great atmosphere tonight. We have great fans and they’re passionate about our team. It’s only going to get louder I bet, when we get those Rangers fans out of here,” said Haula of the Game 7 crowd.

“It gets so loud in here, you enjoy every moment you get to play here and the fans are awesome,” added Schmid.

“They appreciate the play and understand what it means, it’s awesome to play in front of our fans. They had supported us even when it didn’t go too well for us,” said a grateful Tatar.

These Devils got a legendary performance from Schmid with shutouts in Game 5 AND Game 7. Stone Cold Schmido gave up only seven goals in five starts (1.38 GAA, .951 save %) to send the stRangers back to the drawing board, looking for the next overpriced, over-the-hill vet to add to their lengthy heritage collection.

“Huge,” a grinning Hischier said of his fellow countryman and goalie. “He stepped up big time. He came in and looked so confident, so calm. He gave confidence to the whole team and made those saves look easy. Big props to him. That’s playoff hockey – guys step up. He’s a big part of why we won that series.”

Now they advance to play the Carolina Hurricanes, the team that finished one point ahead of them in the Metro Division standings. The team that’s home rink has been a house of horrors for the Devils of seasons past – particularly in the postseason. But not against these Devils. This season New Jersey went 2-2 against the Canes, with each team winning once at home and once on the road.

New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils center Michael McLeod (20): Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports /

“That was a hard series, and we have another tough one coming,” added Haula. “Our team is hungry, we have the belief in(side) our group that – when we play our game we can compete with anyone. We’re not looking ahead to anyone but Carolina. I’ve lost to them two years in a row in the playoffs. I know what they’re all about. It’s gonna be a battle.”

“It’s a hostile building to go to, one of the louder buildings in the playoffs. Their fans are nuts and not very pleasant,” he added with a chuckle. “They’re passionate about their team, and the team thrives off that. We have our work cut out for us.”

The defending Stanley Cup champions (Colorado Avalanche) are out. The President’s Trophy winners (Boston Bruins) are out. The three-time defending Eastern Conference champions (Tampa Bay Lightning) are out. So why not these Devils this year? The field is wide open, and their destiny is in their hands (or hockey gloves).

“We said in there (the locker room) it’s just the first round, we want more. We believe in each other,” said Hischier, “and now we will enjoy this tonight, then tomorrow get back to work and head to Carolina. We’re here to win, it’s no secret. It doesn’t matter what people say about us, we’re here to win.”

Why not these Devils with Jack and Nico, Bratt and Schmido, Dougie and Timo, Gravy and Marino, Pally and Tuna? Why not these Devils, whose penalty killers went 17-for-18 over the final five games of the series against the vaunted stRangers’ power play?

Next. Devils Winning Rangers Series Means Everything To Fanbase. dark

“I think we got a big lesson in the first two games. It’s the playoffs, the hockey is different, and you have to be a little more patient,” said Tatar. “I think the Rangers surprised us; in the season, we were trading chances with them. They buckled down and played good defense, which surprised us. But we took that lesson fast, with a young group. It’s impressive how we figured it out, started playing different hockey, and turned this series around.”

“This season, we turned it around, and we believed. We believed in this group. And this is just the start,” Tatar added. “The sky is the limit.”

Why not these Devils?