It may be the Devils’ home arena, but it’s where the Rangers won the first two in dominant fashion by a score of 10-2 between both games. New Jersey evened up the series with back-to-back wins at Madison Square Garden.
What looked like a quick series for New York a few nights ago has now evened out and become a whole new series. Each team has gone through a Jekyll and Hyde-type switch between the two-game sets, with one team becoming the better and the other team becoming the worse, so far.
Call both teams’ performances inconsistent, so far, but two players have stood up and made this series their own.
Chris Kreider and Akira Schmid have stood out for the Devils and Rangers.
First is Chris Kreider for the New York Rangers, unsurprisingly. When Kreider scored his fifth (yes, fifth) goal of the playoffs in the series’ third game, he became the fastest Ranger in franchise history to score five times in the playoffs.
Kreider has long been a power play threat, especially after exactly half (26 out of 52)of his goals during the 2021-2022 season were on the man advantage. Four of his five goals this series have come on the man advantage. That includes two apiece in the series’ first two games.
If you go back and watch Kreider’s power play goals so far in the playoffs (all the videos can be found as highlights on his player profile on NHL.com), you see a pattern. Every single power play had Kreider right there, in front of the goal, directly to the right of the goaltender Vitek Vanecek.
That’s the prime position for Kreider to either grab a rebound or set up a beautiful deflection, which he did twice in last Thursday’s win. It’s not like Kreider is in a place you wouldn’t expect either. He’s where any skater in the “bumper” position on a standard 1-3-1 power play would be.
Speaking of Vanecek, New Jersey made a change in goal as the series shifted to Manhattan for last Saturday’s game and replaced Vanecek with rookie Akira Schmid. Schmid was the second player I was talking about. His arrival in goal coincided with New Jersey putting itself back in this series.
Vitek Vanecek had prior playoff experience with the Washington Capitals, but Vanecek never had the workload or success he found this season in New Jersey. That’s why no one was surprised when head coach Lindy Ruff turned a blind eye toward those Washington stats and named Vanecek the starter.
After two home losses, and Vanecek playing with a 4.52 goals against average and an .827 save percentage, a change between the pipes was needed.
So far so good for Schmid who has invigorated the team. The Devils attribute Schmid’s puck handling, which helps them break out of their own zone, to their game three victory.
Entering play on Thursday, Schmid leads the NHL with a 0.91 goals against average and a .966 save percentage.
It’s hard to imagine New Jersey going against the hot hand and taking Schmid out of goal. His “calming influence” might be the main reason New Jersey has evened this series.
Former goalie-turned-team broadcaster Chico Resch said it best in an interview after game three that Schmid was able to calm the entire game down. No doubt he calmed the team playing in front of him down while cooling down the opposition.
Every edition of the Hudson River Rivalry brings out its own stars. There was Stephane Matteau in 1994, Adam Henrique in 2012, and Sean Avery infamously in 2008. We might not know who will emerge victorious this year, but the 2023 edition of the Hudson River Rivalry is headlined by Akira Schmid and Chris Kreider.