Recap: Rangers Can't Solve Devils' Defense, Fall 3-1
After dropping their first game of the series in overtime to Akira Schmid and the Devils, the Rangers looked put a stranglehold on the series and go up 3-1 at home. Instead, it was the Devils defense that did the strangling, as they gave the Rangers no room to break at even strength or on the powerplay.
The Devil’s got on the board first when Jack Hughes did as Jack Hughes does and scored on a breakaway. The Kids Line created two solid scoring chances, but Schmid was equal to them both. After the second, a redirect by Alexis Lafreniere, Jonas Siegenthaler pitched the puck out of the zone, and Hughes was off the races. He put just about every move in his bag of tricks until Igor Shesterkin finally bit and Hughes could guide the puck home.
After a middling response by the Rangers, Gerard Gallant tweeked the top lines, swapping Mika Zibanejad and Vincent Trocheck. It made sense, given that Kreider-Zibanejad-Kane had been pretty dire: the Devils had two scoring chances and two high danger chances against them to that point, per NaturalStatTrick.
Trocheck, now flanked by Kreider and Kane, drew a penalty. But the powerplay, which went 0-5 Saturday night, continued to sputter, failing to score yet again. The PP had another chance when Timo Meier took a delay of game call, but after the Devils fully shut down the first unit, Vladimir Tarasenko took a tripping call.
Fortunately, the other side of the special teams coin has remained rock solid for the Rangers. They killed off the remainder of the Tarasenko penalty, as well as a second period interference on Jacob Trouba. Shesterkin played his part too, making a couple of saves on legitimate scoring chances.
Curtis Lazar held up Kaapo Kakko to put the Rangers back on the man-advantage, and after two subpar attempts, the third may have been the worst of all. The first unit couldn’t even get set up, let alone score. The second unit at least managed to get into formation, but they never worked the puck into dangerous parts of the ice. The Devils penalty kill simply did not give the Rangers time or space to work.
The Devils remained the better team in the second period and took their one goal lead to the third—at least for a couple of minutes. Vincent Trocheck broke through when he cleaned up a Chris Kreider rebound to tie the game and bring the Garden back to life.
The Devils answered before the halfway point of the period. Nico Hischier gained the offensive zone, paused at the halfboards, and hit Siegenthaler with a cross-ice pass. He took a far-side wrister that found room on Shesterkin’s glove-side, giving Siegenthaler two points and the Devils a 2-1 lead.
On the ensuring shift, Hischier lost an edge while driving the net and barreled over Shesterkin. Fortunately, Shesterkin made the save and remained in the game.
From there, the Devils clamped down defensively, clogging the neutral zone, stacking the blueline, and clearing the zone. The Rangers were unable to adapt, and even with the net empty, they created virtually no offense. Ondrej Palat tallied an empty netter, and the Devils won 3-1.
With another win, the Devils have knotted the series at two. Akira Schmid was solid again, and New Jersey played incredible defense. Obviously, a lot can change—just look at the first two games to now—but the Rangers absolutely must adapt to stay alive. Even with Shesterkin playing well, they're going to need to score more than 1.5 goals per game against Schmid and co. To that end, figuring out the powerplay is going to be essential. Other than goaltending, the powerplay the biggest advantage they have over the Devils, and the Rangers have too much offensive talent for it to be this impotent. Maybe they need to get Zibanejad back on the left circle, or change up the personel.
We'll see how the respond on Wednesday for game five.