Rangers dominance at even strength could be put to the test in Game 4

Rangers even strength dominance
New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin makes a save against the New Jersey Devils in the second period of Game 3 of the team’s NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series Saturday, April 22, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
AP Photos

If there’s been one consistent theme through the first three games of the series between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils it’s that the Blueshirts have had an overwhelming edge at even strength in each contest. 

Even with New Jersey pulling away with an overtime 2-1 victory in Game 3, the Rangers’ strength at five-on-five hockey was apparent. New York has used clutch goaltending and strong defense to suffocate the fast-paced Devils in a way where it’s been difficult for the young team to gain an edge. 

But even the Rangers understand that containing a top offensive team like New Jersey is easier said than done. 

The good news for the Rangers is that they have the tools necessary to continue their solid play at even strength. Igor Shesterkin has been superb to start the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, saving .950% of his shots faced while giving up just 1.26 goals per game. Before Dougie Hamilton’s game-winner on Saturday, the Rangers had not allowed an even-strength goal yet this series while outscoring their rivals 10-2 through two games. 

“We’re sticking to the plan. We’ve played good hockey for more than nine periods. We’ve had good results so far,” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said before Monday’s contest.

Part of the adjustments New York will be looking to make will be on how to solve the Devils’ new starting goaltender in the series, Akira Schmid. After chasing Vitak Vanecek through two games, the rookie goaltender for New Jersey shut down the Blueshirts’ high-octane offense, saving 27 shots in Game 3 and keeping the Blueshirts’ powerplay scoreless. 

For Gallant and his roster, they’ll be interested to see if the newcomer can replicate his numbers in his second career playoff contest. 

“He’s going to do his job. He’s a 22-year-old kid who played a great game the other night. Now can he come back and do it again tonight? We’ll see what happens. We’ve got to get people in front of him, got to get more scoring opportunities. You have to beat him with traffic and with good shots,” Gallant explained. 

If New York is to take a commanding three-games-to-one lead over their rivals, their dominance during even strength will need to continue. Should New Jersey crack the code in Game 4 Monday night, it would not just even the series at two, but also set the stage for a far more difficult run for the Blueshirts. 

“That’s the way it goes. I think you look at the two teams involved in this series – both had excellent road records. I don’t think it matters where you play,” Gallant concluded. 

A lot hinges on Monday’s playoff contest for both teams. For the Rangers, it might just be a “can’t lose” kind of game. 

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