The buildup to the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils had a lot to do with the debate between experience vs. speed. After one game, it’s clear that neither played a major role in the Rangers’ 5-1 win over their rivals.
Instead, a central theme was displayed by the Rangers that helped them overpower a young Devils roster.
In hockey, grit is an overlooked term when describing how a team can gain an advantage over another. On Tuesday, the Rangers used a massive amount of grit to dominate a road playoff game against an arch-rival.
“That first period, especially on the PK, we blocked a lot of shots and that really set the tone for our guys on the bench. I was really happy with the way they competed – did the little things that win hockey games,” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said after the win.
New York blocked 23 shots in the win, frustrating players like Jack Hughes consistently while maintaining defensive discipline. Going four for four on the penalty kill without even giving up a shot on goal also helps on the defensive end as well.
“They did a lot of good things. They had up-ice pressure, they played strong in the blue line, and didn’t give them the entry real good. They just did a lot of good things,” Gallant added. “They’re a real talented team, but they’ll come back and get ready to play Game Two.”
Gallant also shot down the idea that the Rangers’ previous playoff experience played a role in the Blueshirts’ grit. He did however single out the team’s fourth-line prowess to set the tone on the plays that may not show up on the stat sheet but are instrumental to winning.
“Our fourth line is like their fourth line. You can play them against anybody. I’m not afraid when they are on the ice against their best players.”
The combination of Jimmy Vesey, Barclay Goodrow, and Tyler Motte accounted for seven blocks and seven hits in the win against the Devils, At times going against New Jersey’s top line, the trio held their own and kept their opponent off the score sheet in key situations throughout the contest.
Playoff series aren’t won after one game. New York understands there is still more to do should the team move on to the next round of the playoffs. But setting the tone the way they did on Tuesday goes a long way to showing a young team like New Jersey just how small the margins are to winning in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
And if there’s one fundamental lesson the Rangers showed in their victory is that grit overpowers skill when it matters most.
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