Matchups, preview, how to watch Devils-Rangers on ABC, ESPN+
Heading into the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs, one series that grabbed the attention of many fans was the No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup in the Metropolitan Division, pitting the New Jersey Devils against the New York Rangers in the latest edition of the Battle of the Hudson.
Thus far, it’s been a one-sided affair, with the visiting Rangers winning both Games 1 and 2 by 5-1 scores. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Rangers are the second team in Stanley Cup playoff history to win the first two games on the road by four or more goals. The other club was the 1970 Boston Bruins, who did so in the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues. Boston would sweep that series.
As talented as the Devils are, a comeback is certainly a possibility. They will attempt to start one in the Game 3 clash Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
To help get you ready for the game, we’ve put together a guide on what to watch from each team, including keys to victory from senior writer Greg Wyshynski, and in-depth statistical insights from ESPN Stats & Information.
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Line: NYR -140 | O/U: 5.5
Wyshynski’s keys to victory
The young Devils are making their first playoff appearance since 2018 after the most successful regular season in franchise history. But they have looked nothing like that team through two games. The experienced Rangers have overwhelmed their neighbors, outscoring them 10-2.
Still, New Jersey forward Erik Haula said not to count them out yet.
“We’re not done. We’re far from done. We’re not defeated. We’re going to keep pressing,” he said.
Here are three keys for Game 3:
Is the Devils’ deficit too large?
Losing the first two games of a series always puts a team’s collective back against a wall. Losing the first two games on home ice is a recipe for disaster.
According to the NHL, teams that take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series when starting on the road hold a series record of 85-20 (.810). The last time it happened was in the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs, when the Tampa Bay Lightning took the first two games in Sunrise against the Florida Panthers and swept them.
The Devils were tied for the second highest points percentage on the road this season (.732), winning 28 of 41 road games. They had a win and an overtime loss at Madison Square Garden this season.
“The fact that we haven’t gotten the results we wanted, we still have the ability to do something special,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “We win one game, we turn this series around.”
The biggest factor in this series so far has been the Rangers’ power-play dominance.
The Rangers scored two power-play goals in each of the first two games, some of them coming at soul crushing times. In Game 1, a power-play goal gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead just 9:30 into the game. In Game 2, a power-play tally boosted the Rangers’ advantage in the second period just 4:04 after they had tied the score.
The Devils have been short-handed 10 times in two games after averaging 2.85 times per game being short-handed at home in the regular season.
“I don’t think we’re playing very well. We’re taking terrible penalties. Everyone’s gotta play better,” center Jack Hughes said.
One way to be more effective on the penalty kill would be to find a way — any way — to stop the Rangers’ Chris Kreider, who scored all four of their power-play goals.
“I just happened to be the open guy a couple of times,” he said.
Coach Lindy Ruff said Kreider had “some fortunate [goals]” on friendly bounces, but stressed that his team had to be better.
“We have to take his stick away. We had blown coverage [in Game 2],” Ruff said. “Our forward at the top can do a better job of being in that shot lane.”
That’s easier said than done. Kreider believes that the Rangers’ power-play success has been slowly building after the trade deadline acquisitions of Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko.
“It’s not a video game. You can’t just throw together lines and expect them to work,” said Kreider, who had eight power-play goals in 79 regular-season games. “We’ve been working as a group on the power play and 5-on-5. It’s starting to come.”
Changes for Devils
Like almost everything else in this series, the Devils’ regular-season success at even strength hasn’t transferred to the postseason. They were fourth in 5-on-5 goals (197). This series, they’ve yet to score a goal at even strength.
In an effort to generate offense, Ruff mixed lines again at practice ahead of Game 3. He moved Ondrej Palat up with Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt; moved Hughes in the middle with Tomas Tatar and Haula; and dropped trade deadline coup Timo Meier down to a line with Michael McLeod and Dawson Mercer.
The real intrigue is in the crease. Vitek Vanecek has an .827 save percentage in two games. The Devils have 26-year-old Mackenzie Blackwood and 22-year-old Akira Schmid waiting in the wings.
“We’ve used all three goalies this year,” Ruff said. “So if we decide we’re going with a different goalie, it’s because they’ve been part of our group and helped us win games all year.”
Notes from ESPN Stats & Information
The Devils’ only series win after falling behind 2-0 in a best-of-seven came in the 1994 conference semifinals against the Bruins. They dropped a pair of one-goal games at home before winning the next four, including three in Boston. Their reward for winning that series was a conference finals date with their Hudson River rivals. The Rangers won in a memorable seven-game series.
The Devils’ four power-play scoring chances have come from Haula (two), Hischier and McLeod. This means none from Hughes, Bratt, Dougie Hamilton or Meier, who combined to score 29 power-play goals for the Devils this season.
The Rangers have disrupted the Devils’ passing lanes in every zone (New Jersey has 28 giveaways in two games after averaging 9.07 per game during the regular season), but especially when New Jersey is in the offensive zone. According to Stathletes, New York is averaging 17.0 defensive zone deflection causing turnovers per game in the series (14.5 in the regular season; 11th in NHL).
Vanecek has allowed nine goals on 52 shots and ranks at the bottom among playoff goaltenders in goals saved above expected (-4.01).
Rookie Schmid was on the bench as the backup for the first two games, and Blackwood is also available, though neither has any playoff experience. If Schmid gets the nod, he would be the first Devils rookie goalie to start a playoff game since Martin Brodeur in Game 7 of 1994 Eastern Conference finals, which was against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
According to Stathletes, the Devils were the top team in generating scoring chances off the rush during the regular season at 5.1 per game. Bratt (first) and Hughes (third) were among the top three in the NHL in rush scoring chances per 60 minutes during the regular season (Colorado’s Evan Rodrigues was second), but have combined for just five scoring chances (and no goals) off the rush in the first two games.
The Rangers won just twice on the road in last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs, which ended for them in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning. The Rangers matched that total before the first week of this season’s playoffs ended.
Tarasenko has gotten the Rangers on the board with a goal in each of the two games. He is the seventh player in Rangers playoff history, and the first since Steve Vickers in 1978, to open the scoring in two straight games to open a postseason (no Rangers player has done so in three consecutive games).
Tarasenko has scored 43 playoff goals since 2014 and ranks third in the league over that span behind only Nikita Kucherov (53) and Palat (48).
Kane has been the difference-maker the Rangers had hoped when he was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in February. He is seeking to become the first active skater to win four Stanley Cup titles and possibly add another Conn Smythe, which he won in 2013. In Game 2, Kane scored his 53rd career playoff goal, matching Jeremy Roenick for fourth-most on the league’s all-time list among U.S.-born players behind Joe Pavelski (64), Joe Mullen (60) and Mike Modano (58).
Kreider has been the story for the Blueshirts, becoming the first player in NHL history with four power-play goals through the first two games of a playoff series. The last skater to have just three PPG through the first two games was Bill Guerin in 1998 with the Edmonton Oilers.
The only Rangers skater with five power-play goals in a single playoff series is Adam Graves in the 1996 conference quarterfinals vs. the Canadiens (six games). The NHL record for most PPG in one series is six by Chris Kontos (Los Angeles Kings) in the 1989 division semifinals against the Oilers (seven games). The record for most power-play goals scored in a single playoff run is nine by Mike Bossy (New York Islanders) in 1981 and Cam Neely (Boston Bruins) in 1991.