Game 7. That is all that needs to be said. The winner advances to round two and, the loser goes home. This is the game in which anything can, and likely will, happen. The New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers head to the Prudential Center in New Jersey to settle this back-and-forth series.
Both teams have been excellent at times and bad at others. This series is about as close as you can get as far as stats go.
The final battle concludes on Monday night, May 1. Here are five things to watch for Game 7 between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers.
The New York Rangers will try to eliminate the upstart Devils.
Will Timo Meier get his game back?
Devils forward Timo Meier was a high-profile acquisition from the San Jose Sharks. His talents are not questioned, nor is his heart. What can be questioned are his stats in the playoffs.
He has been invisible thus far, going pointless in six games with 20 penalty minutes. In the regular season, Meier had 66 points in 78 games. One has to wonder if he will be the pivotal player who breaks through and gets the New Jersey Devils to the second round.
The Rangers have taken their physical play to another level with Meier, as he is met with physicality whenever he touches the puck. In order to advance to round two, New Jersey needs Meier to have a big game Monday night.
Who starts for the New Jersey Devils?
New Jersey Devils goaltenders have been up and down. Vitek Vanecek started the series 0-2. Then he was replaced by Akira Schmid, who went 3-0 but was replaced by Vanecek in Game 6.
Schmid is 3-1 with a GAA of 1.72 and a save percentage of .937. Vanecek is 0-2 with a GAA of 4.43 and a save percentage of .827 but looked good in replacing Schmid. Devils head coach Lindy Ruff should go back to Schmid for Game 7 as he has played extremely well in Games 3, 4, and 5.
The team as a whole played better with Schmid in the net. Although his confidence may be shaken a bit, he is the better of the two goaltenders this postseason.
Can the New York Rangers continue their momentum?
The New York Rangers scored a huge 5-2 win in Game 6 to stay alive, playing maybe their best game in the series. Naturally, the Rangers are on a high and believe they can win the series now. Can they have too much confidence going into game 7?
The Rangers did a number of things well on Saturday to advance this series to a final game. The Rangers scored five goals, something they had not done since Game 2. They scored on the power play after going 0-for-10. They chased Schmid, who had been dominant, to the bench.
Key players like Vladimir Tarasenko and Mika Zibanejad got on the scoreboard and played pivotal roles in the Game 6 win. A Rangers team full of confidence is a dangerous one to deal with, even in a Game 7.
Depth providing key moments for both teams
The playoffs are not about stars and top scorers. The playoffs are about dirty goals, goals in front of the net, and goals off of sticks. Both teams in the series have had role players play big roles in their success.
Devils forward Curtis Lazar has not played much, but he has still been effective. Forward Nathan Bastian has played key minutes on a regular shift and penalty kill. Defenseman Kevin Bahl has played a physical role against some of New York’s top forwards. Defenseman Damon Severson has supplied some offense from the back end while playing solid defense.
For the Rangers, Jimmy Vesey has solidified his role as a dependable bottom-six forward. Barclay Goodrow has played a key role scoring goals and showing his physical side. Defenseman Niko Mikkola has been what the team expected of him, which is to be a rock in the defensive zone. Defenseman Braden Schneider has become an important defenseman who has played some key minutes.
In their three straight wins, the Devils had the puck more than they did not. In the Rangers’ three wins, the same thing. The puck possession game is going to be critical to the team that advances.
Can the New Jersey Devils keep the puck away from the Rangers’ experienced forwards? Can the New York Rangers keep the puck away from the young, speedy forwards of the Devils?
This is a huge part of the game that will not get a lot of attention but may be the most important part of this Game 7.
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 Schneieder
Igor Shesterkin-Jaroslav Halak
Lineups via nhl.com
Where to watch
MSGSN, ESPN, 8:00 PM EST