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NHL playoffs: Devils eliminate Rangers in Game 7 to win Battle of the Hudson

The Devils will take on the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Devils are moving on while the Rangers are heading home early.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Devils are moving on while the Rangers are heading home early. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

In a series full of swings — one where things looked pretty dicey for the Devils after Game 2 — New Jersey eventually dominated the New York Rangers on home ice in Game 7 with a decisive 4-0 victory.

As much as Jacob Trouba’s thunderous hit thudded through the third period, possibly forcing Timo Meier to the sidelines, it was an incredible all-around performance by the Devils.

Early on, New Jersey looked very much like a team that missed the playoffs the previous four years and made it to the postseason only once since 2012-13. In the end, they looked like a squad that almost won their division.

With one series win in the books, the Metropolitan Division-winning Carolina Hurricanes await as a wildly different test for the Devils in Round 2.

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The Rangers, meanwhile, must digest a gutting loss where all of their big-name talent amounted to very little. If the Hudson River rivalry has been renewed, New York might go through some changes before the teams meet again.

Devils carry first period but don't get anything to show for it

The Devils dominated in sheer shot attempts (23-7) and high-danger chances (7-0), at even strength during the first period of Game 6, yet entered the intermission tied 1-1.

It was déjà vu in Game 7, as the Devils made a bunch of plays at even strength, yet Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin was up to the task. New Jersey nearly hit the self-destruct button with three penalties in the first period (versus just a single one by New York), leading to another opening frame that ended with a tie and mixed feelings for the home side.

If it weren’t for New Jersey netminder Akira Schmid, maybe those feelings would’ve been flat-out bad after the first 20 minutes. While the Devils carried much of the play, plenty of Rangers power-play chances could’ve tilted Game 7 early on. Schmid rose to the occasion, including stopping some dangerous Mika Zibanejad opportunities.

Schmid ended up pitching a 31-save shutout in Game 7, with the little-known goalie holding his own against an all-world netminder in Shesterkin.

Considering his 26 shots on goal through the first six games of the series and tremendous underlying numbers, it would be silly to question Meier’s effort level in the playoffs. Even so, frustration had to be building as he came into Game 7 without a goal or an assist after a 40-goal, 66-point regular season. That frustration continued when Shesterkin turned him aside from a dangerous spot on a 2-on-1 opportunity:

Shesterkin continues to shine but Devils break through in second period

Despite a substantial early disparity in calls, the Devils managed to break through for the first goal of Game 7 when Ondrej Palat made great plays to set up a sensational finish by Michael McLeod.

Perhaps fittingly, it was a shorthanded goal by the Devils and McLeod made some obscure history with the tally.

That 1-0 goal had to spell some relief, particularly because New Jersey carried so much of the play. In plenty of instances, Shesterkin simply saved the Rangers’ bacon.

But even a world-class goalie like Shesterkin needs some help. The Devils kept pouring it on in the second period, with John Marino making a great, aggressive play to set up a 2-0 goal by Tomas Tatar.

Big hits steal spotlight, Rangers don’t really put up a fight in third period

With the way the Devils were dominating the Rangers, a 2-0 deficit in Game 7 looked foreboding. History was on the Devils’ side.

Still, there have been some big surprises during the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Rangers feature big-name talent that can turn a game on a dime.

Huge collisions stole the show a few minutes into the third period. First, Nico Hischier lost his footing, eventually upending Shesterkin, who fell violently to the ice. K’Andre Miller ended up taking a roughing penalty after that collision, while a would-be Devils goal did not count.

During the ensuing Devils power play, Jacob Trouba delivered another devastating, high-profile check, this time on Meier. It took Meier a long time to recover from the hit, which did not draw a penalty of any kind.

Was that the right call? Many believe it was, including those who focus on such situations.

At the same time, Trouba continually blurs the line, making you wonder if there are ways to limit such hits. It sometimes gets lost that such a hit isn’t always “necessary.”

As much attention as the Trouba hit garnered, it was about the only “fight” the Rangers really showed. Any hint of a comeback was stomped out after a dagger goal by Erik Haula.

Throw in an empty-net marker and Game 7 was lopsided, with sarcastic “I-gor” chants pouring down to the ice by the final whistle.