In the Stanley Cup playoffs, it doesn’t take long for narratives to form.
One thing that developed quickly after the New York Rangers defeated the rival New Jersey Devils in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series: that the veteran Rangers were ready and the playoff freshmen Devils were panicking.
But Rangers defenseman Adam Fox said those narratives can change quickly.
“We were the team that didn’t have ‘a lot of experience’ last year,” Fox said after the 5-1 win in New Jersey. “It’s a long series. It’s a game.”
Can the Devils recover in the second game of this potentially long streak? Here are five keys to New Jersey and the Rangers heading into the Battle of the Hudson Thursday night:
The “jitter” must end
Devils coach Lindy Ruff said it best after Game 1: The best thing that happened for his team was that they all now had at least one playoff game under their belt.
It was the first postseason action for the likes of Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt and Dawson Mercer. As a franchise, it was the Devils’ first playoff game since 2018. The coach and his players spoke openly about “jitter” after the Game 1 loss. You didn’t have to check player bios to find out which team made last year’s conference finals and added former Stanley Cup champions at the close and which team was the New Jersey Devils.
“It was the first playoff game for a lot of players. You don’t have that experience until you experience it,” Ruff said.
Nervousness happened at opening night. Heck, the Boston Bruins admitted they played butterflies in their Game 1 win over Florida, and that was after the most successful regular season in NHL history. The Devils cost the playoffs. Now they have to show in Game 2 that they have what it takes.
Whither Meier and Palat?
Two players in the top 6 Devils with playoff experience didn’t make a significant impact in Game 1. The team’s blockbuster trade deadline acquis Timo Meier tried to make an impact, with two shots and two blocked shots right around Igor Shesterkin’s kink. Ondrej Palat – signed in the off-season – had a shot from the slot and two others were blocked in the zone.
Both players like to go into the net and create chances. Meier led the San Jose Sharks in dangerous shot attempts every 60 minutes. Palat earned his free agent contract with the Devils largely by creating those playoff chances, leading all players into dangerous ones in 71 postseason games during the Lightning’s three trips to the Stanley Cup finals Shooting attempts (min. 25 games). ).
The Rangers did a good job in Game 1 to limit the Devils’ shots from the second chance. They didn’t allow for much chaos before Shesterkin. These players could fix both problems for the Devils.
Rangers need to keep Devils grounded
One of the reasons the Devils didn’t look like the offensively dynamic team that finished fifth per game: The Rangers basically stuck them in quicksand, taking time and space from their scorers while using skillful players like Jack throughout the night Hughes around.
Rangers’ physicality has done two things. It disrupted the Devils’ offensive flow in the attacking zone. Hughes was Exhibit A: He averaged 3.27 giveaways per 60 minutes during the regular season and only had two of them in four games against Rangers. In Game 1 he had five.
The Rangers also engaged the Devils in more physical fights, which isn’t their game at all… and something where the Rangers had an advantage prior to the series with players like Jacob Trouba, K’Andre Miller and Barclay Goodrow. The Devils ranked 29th in goals per game (16.43) during the regular season; in game 1 they delivered 30 of them.
The Rangers also saw a statistical change from the regular season to Game 1. They were 18th in blocked shots per 60 minutes en route to the series; They had 22 blocked or adjusted shots against New Jersey in Game 1.
“They forced us to play a game that limited our rushing options,” Ruff said. “When you have the lead, it helps with that.”
More from the Zibanejad line
It’s difficult to judge the Rangers too harshly in 5-on-5. They built a 2-0 lead early on and then the game was all but over when defender Ryan Lindgren scored late in the second half. But the Devils had a plus-17 advantage in shot attempts and plus-14 in scoring chances for the game at even strength.
The reunited Kid Line – Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko – were the Rangers’ strongest, also playing close at shot attempts and scoring Lindgren’s goal. Artemi Panarin’s line was struck while in possession but scored the first goal of the game. But Rangers’ other primary scoring line needs to be better at 5-on-5.
Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Patrick Kane were down 8 on shot attempts and had the lowest expected goals for any Rangers line in the game. Kane and Kreider each had just one shot on target in the 5v5, while Zibanejad had none. Seeing a lot of Mercer and Nico Hischier will make that a line.
This line has proven that it can be better offensively and defensively. The real question is whether coach Gerard Gallant will let it thrive offensively. The Rangers deliberately played a conservative Game 1. They chipped in pucks instead of carrying them in. For example, Kane had four dump-ins and only carried the puck in three times.
Special team fights
There was no greater disparity between the Devils and Rangers in Game 1 than on special teams. Rangers were 2-for-3 on the power play. The devils were 0-for-4. But it was If those successes and failures happened that mattered.
The Rangers brought in a penalty to 1:15, the Devils failed in the subsequent power play. Vladimir Tarasenko scored a 1-0 lead just two minutes after the end. Rangers took another penalty at 6:09 of the first period. Here, too, the Devils failed to score in a 5-on-4 game. They fired a 1:05 penalty after the end, and Kreider scored the first of Rangers’ two power-play goals that night to make it 2-0.
Ruff said the Devils’ inability to generate momentum from their power play was a contributing factor to their loss; it instead generated momentum for the Rangers.
“We were looking for the perfect game,” said the coach. “We’ve been a unit all year looking for specific plays and able to capitalize on them. But our puck game wasn’t good enough.”
A lot wasn’t good enough for the Devils in Game 1.
“You have to put the disappointment away immediately,” Ruff concluded. “We talked about it as a team this morning: you got your first taste. You take what you can from losses, you take what you can from victories and you have to keep going.”