The New Jersey Devils have a chance to advance to the second round for the first time in 12 years. The Devils hold a 3-2 series lead over the New York Rangers with Game 6 taking place at Madison Square Garden.
New Jersey has goaltender Akira Schmid, one of the hottest players in the 2023 NHL playoffs. New York has forward Chris Kreider, who is one of the top goal-scorers in the playoffs.
In order for there to be a Game 7, the Rangers will have to play mistake-free hockey and throw everything at the Devils.
The Rangers have their backs against the wall against the Devils.
The Rangers, who made it to the Conference Final in the 2021-22 season, have to find a way to play a complete 60 minutes against a hard-working Devils team that refuses to quit.
The Devils have to find a way to control the emotions the Rangers will be playing with. Here are five things to watch during Game 6:
Can the New York Rangers slow down the speedy Devils?
The New Jersey Devils came into the 2023 playoffs as one of the youngest teams remaining. So much young talent and yet so mature. One of the things that makes the Devils dangerous is their lightning team speed.
Jack Hughes, Dawson Mercer, Nico Hishcier, and others are dangerous because of their speed. The Devils have used that speed in this series to get to loose pucks and create scoring chances. If the Rangers are going to force a Game 7, and eventually win the series, they have to slow down the speed of the Devils.
Defensemen Jacob Trouba, Niko Mikkola, Ryan Lindgren, and Braden Schneider are going to have to work together as a unit, play a physical style against a smaller group of forwards, and take away their space and passing lanes.
These Devils are quicker than lightning and the Rangers must invade their space from the neutral zone on back.
Can the Rangers figure out their power play?
One of the issues for the Rangers in the last three games has been special teams, namely the power play. The Rangers went 4-10 in the first two games of the series but are 0-10 in the last three games, all losses.
The Rangers power play is tenth in the league in the playoffs at 20%, compared to seventh in the regular season at 24.1%. Five percent does not seem like much but this could be a whole new series if they would have capitalized on just a couple of man advantages.
With the recent roster changes, this could affect the power play numbers.
Sounds simple, right? The Rangers have not put anything together since the New Jersey Devils put Akira Schmid between the pipes in Game 3. Schmid has been as dominant as any goalie in the past 10 years in the playoffs, and the Rangers have yet to figure him out.
In his three playoff games, Schmid has a 3-0 record, a ridiculous 0.63 GAA, a .976 save percentage, and one shutout. The Rangers have scored two goals in their last three games and, as talented and deep as they are, need to find a solution quickly.
Crowding the net, screening the goaltender, and shooting for rebounds may be a few things they could incorporate in this pivotal Game 6. The Rangers have nothing to lose at this point, so it would be worth a shot. The Rangers have too many forwards that have been held in check way too long.
Igor Shesterkin needs a perfect game
New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin has struggled this postseason. Shesterkin is one of the elite goaltenders in the league but has been average in the playoffs. The Devils have rattled Shesterkin a bit with the goals that he has given up, and he has had a tough time seeing the puck.
Shesterkin needs to play how Schmid has played the last three games to keep the Rangers alive. He is capable of putting on a clinic between the pipes and he needs a big game tonight.
In his last 26 playoff games, Shesterkin has a 12-13 record, a 2.44 GAA, and a .930 save percentage. He is currently 2-3 versus the Devils in the playoffs.
More pressure on New Jersey or New York?
The New Jersey Devils are coming into their own as a solid, young group. The New York Rangers have more of a veteran group that has smelled playoff success before.
Before the season started, nobody expected the Devils to be this good, or go this far. The time is now for New Jersey as they have not been out of the first round since the 2011-12 season when they won the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers, however, lost in the Conference Final last season to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Devils are a hungry bunch and want to continue this successful year they have had. The pressure is more on the Devils as their time is now with their team coming into its own. The Devils have a solid team that could make the playoffs a regular thing after this season.
Projected Lineups for the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers
New Jersey Devils
Tomas Tatar-Nico Hischier-Jesper Bratt
Ondrej Palat-Jack Hughes-Erik Haula
Timo Meier-Dawson Mercer-Jesper Boqvist
Nathan Bastian-Michael McLeod-Curtis Lazar
Jonas Siegenthaler-Dougie Hamilton
Ryan Graves-John Marino
Kevin Bahl-Damon Severson
Akira Schmid-Vitek Vanecek
Injuries-Jonathan Bernier (hip)
New York Rangers
Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexis Lafreniere-Vincent Trocheck-Patrick Kane
Artemi Panarin-Filip Chytil-Kaapo Kakko
Jimmy Vesey-Barclay Goodrow-Tyler Motte
Ryan Lindgren-Adam Fox
K’Andre MIller-Jacob Trouba
Niko Mikkola-Braden Schneider
Igor Shesterkin-Jaroslav Halak
Lineups via nhl.com
Where to watch
ABC, ESPN, 8:00 PM EST