The Devils blew an opportunity to advance past the Rangers by playing poorly in game six, setting up the winner take all game seven in Newark on Monday.
The Devils did not play well enough to win game six, plain and simple. Yes the refs missed some calls that could have helped the Devils, but their own poor play is what cost New Jersey this game. The Devils put themselves at a disadvantage by taking four penalties, turning the puck over regularly, and consistently leaving the Rangers snipers wide open in the slot. Even though the Devils were able to kill three of the four penalties, spending eight minutes shorthanded exhausted some of the Devils key players and helped the Rangers generate momentum. Arguably the worst penalty was taken by Ondrej Palat late in the first period. The Devils had just finished killing off a Nathan Bastian interference penalty, and mere seconds later, Ondrej Palat slashed the stick out of Ke’Andre Miller’s hands and put the Devils right back on the kill. On the ensuing Ranger power play, Mikka Zibanejad would shoot the puck off of Chris Kreider’s leg and past Akira Schmid to tie the game at one. The Rangers have a very strong power play so you have to limit their chances in order to beat them and you absolutely cannot put them out there immediately after a successful kill. Very costly and stupid play by Palat.
Aside from the penalties, the Devils made mistakes at five on five as well. Specifically, when the Rangers were able to keep the puck in the zone, the Devils got caught out of position multiple times, leaving Ranger snipers wide open in the slot. Mikka Zibanejad and Valdamir Taresnko just cannot be allowed to get clean shots off from that area of the ice at five on five. Someone needs to be right on them to either prevent the shot all together or at least take away their time and space and effect the quality of the shot. Giving guys like Taresenko and Zibanejad opportunities to shoot like that is a recipe for disaster and disaster is exactly what happened. The D zone coverage is a big area of concern heading into game seven.
The Devils made their fair share of mistakes but I also have to give credit where credit is due. Igor Shesterkin was great tonight for the Rangers. Especially in the first period when the Devils were the far better team, Shesterkin was sharp and prevented the Devils from scoring multiple goals early. He also prevented the Devils from getting back into the game in the early third period when the Devils were pressing while down 3-1. I wouldn’t quite say Shesterkin stole the game because the Rangers overall outplayed the Devils, but he proved once again why he is one of the top three goalies in the world right now. Playing against a goalie of this caliber, you can’t afford to give goals away with bad defense and dumb penalties like the Devils did tonight. The Devils can expect a similarly stellar performance on Monday so they need to make sure to severely limit the Rangers chances in game seven.
So now everything comes down to one game, at home, against our biggest rivals. We have seen the Devils get blown out in this series and bounce back to win. We have seen the Devils blow the Rangers out in Newark. We know the Devils can win this, its just a question of execution. We have also seen the Devils get blown out in Newark in this series so anything is possible. In game seven on Monday night, the Devils need some of their stars to step up. Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Timo Meier have a combined zero goals this series. Monday night seems like a perfect time for them to change that. Lindy Riff made the decision to pull Schmid and put Vanecek in net after the fifth Ranger goal. I don’t think this changes anything. Schmid wasn’t as spectacular tonight as he was in games three through five, but he was far from the reason the Devils lost. I would expect Ruff to keep Schmid as the starter for game seven. Winner take all, let’s hope the Devils take it. You can follow me on Twitter at PatBoooooth.