The Rangers’ latest Stanley Cup drought has now reached 29 years and counting.
The New Jersey Devils sent the Rangers home with an impressive 4-0 win at the Rock in Newark last night in game seven of their Eastern Conference first round series. For a second straight post season, the Rangers blew a 2-0 series lead.
“It definitely stinks. We feel like we let an opportunity slip away. It’s hockey, give them credit,” Jacob Trouba said after the game.
Devils’ rookie goaltender Akira Schmid posted his second shutout in the series as he made 31 saves to end the Rangers’ season. Schmid was particularly good in the third period when the Rangers were desperately trying to get something going.
New Jersey deserved to win the series because they were the better team last night and they were the better team in four of the last five games. In the game six loss, the 5-2 score was a bit misleading, because New Jersey had chances to win that one as well.
This could have been a 7 or 8 goal blowout were it not for Rangers’ goaltender Igor Shesterkin who saw a number of odd man rushes and made 20 saves. Shesterkin deserved a better fate than to hear the mocking chants from the Devils faithful, who had a right to stick out their chests. “I feel bad for Igor. He battled all series and to not get any goal support for him obviously hurts,” Adam Fox said.
The Rangers dynamic offense materialized in spurts as they scored 15 goals in their three wins but only two goals in the four losses. The series was eerily similar to the seven game loss to Tampa Bay in the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals. The Rangers scored 14 goals in the three wins, but only 7 in the four losses, including being shutout in games 5 and 7 against the Lightning, just like this season.
The Devils took some early penalties but the Rangers were 0 for 4 on the power play. The Rangers went 5 for 28 (Kreider had all five goals) in the series on the power play as they could not capitalize with the man advantage in game seven and the final five games after beginning the series 4 for 7 in the first two games.
The Rangers top six forwards combined for 12 of their 17 goals in the seven game series but Chris Kreider and Vladimir Tarasenko had 9 of the 12 while Artemi Panarin did not score a goal and had two assists in the series.
Panarin was invisible for most of the series and succumbed to his habit of making a bad decision with the puck in the offensive zone. With a little over three minutes left in the first period, Panarin was in the offensive zone when he made an ill advised drop pass that led to a breakaway for Jack Hughes, but Shesterkin made the save to keep the game scoreless at that point.
Mika Zibanejad and Vincent Trocheck scored one goal apiece and Alexis Lafreniere did not have a point. After recording six assists in the first two games, Fox seemed to be a different player in the final five.
The Devils had a 20-3 advantage in takeaways as the Rangers were sloppy with the puck and it was Fox, who made an uncharacteristically bad play that led to the first goal and was the turning point of the night.
With the game scoreless in the second period, the Rangers had just gone on the power play. Fox had the puck in his own zone and was looking to break out, but he was checked by a relentless Ondrej Palat and momentarily lost the puck. Fox recovered and then tried to bang the puck up the boards, but it took a funny bounce off the boards and came loose.
Kreider (who was on ice for all four goals and was a -4 on the night) had the puck but lost it to Palat who took it away and flipped it to Michael McLeod who was in front. McLeod made a move on Shesterkin, got him out of position and put it in the open net for a crushing shorthanded goal and a 1-0 lead just past the midway point of the second period.
“That first goal was a tough one to give up, obviously,” Coach Gerard Gallant said. “After that, the rest of the second period, we gave up too much. We gave up two on ones, we gave up odd man rushes, then they got that second goal, so that was tough.”
New Jersey made it 2-0 at 15:39 of the second period. Devils defenseman John Marino carried the puck into the Ranger zone and beat two Rangers to put the puck on net. Tomas Tatar, who has burned the Rangers many times before, cleaned up a rebound of Marino’s shot and then buried the puck for a two goal lead and all the momentum as the Rock exploded.
“Talked about playing our game no matter what happens in the game,” Zibanejad said. “I thought we did some of it. They score, 1-0, 2-0 comes after that, then it’s just chasing.”
The Rangers had 20 minutes to save their season, but the Devils would not let that happen as they held off any surge by a desperate team. Not even a patented, bone crushing hit in the third period by Jacob Trouba on Timo Meier could wake up his Ranger teammates.
Devils left wing Erik Haula, who was a big factor in the win, made it 3-0 with his fourth of the series at 14:27 of the third period. Shesterkin was pulled for the extra man and Jesper Bratt cashed in an empty netter to cap off the scoring.
Rangers GM Chris Drury made some big time moves to make another playoff run but it comes up short in the first round.
“We had a good team, I liked our team but the team we played was a very fast team and they took it to us at times during the series with their speed,” Gallant said after a most disappointing finish.
Gallant is brutally honest at times and saying that the other team “took it to us” and your team “didn’t show up” after the game four debacle at the Garden certainly does not help his cause in Jim Dolan’s eyes.
I can’t imagine an impetuous owner like Dolan is going to accept those comments after the Rangers put together this ultra talented and dynamic team that was going to make a long playoff run, but went out in the first round to their rival across the Hudson.