3 things to watch as Rangers face Devils in Game 7 of Stanley Cup Playoff series

Apr 20, 2023; Newark, New Jersey, USA; New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (20) celebrates his goal with teammates during the second period in game two of the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.

Game 7, in all its potential glory, arrives Monday night when the Rangers visit The Rock and try to beat the Devils one more time and advance out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It’s familiar territory for these Blueshirts, based on last year’s run. There’s even some history involved – this will be the third Game 7 meeting between the neighbors. The Rangers won the first two, one in the 1994 Conference Finals and the other in the 1992 Division Semifinals.

Last year, the Rangers won two Game 7s en route to the Eastern Conference Final, beating the Penguins and Hurricanes. This will be the 18th Game 7 in Rangers history. They are 11-6 in such games, including 3-5 on the road, and are 8-1 over the last nine.

"You don’t want to put yourself in positions to play Game 7s, but they’re some of the most fun hockey we’ll play," Rangers defenseman Adam Fox said. "It’s one game, anything can happen. But I think we’re a confident group."

"Win or go home, that’s it," added Devils captain Nico Hischier. "Game 7, pretty much self-explaining:

"All or nothing."

Here are three things to watch in Game 7, which begins at 8 p.m. at the Prudential Center in Newark. The winner gets a second-round date with Carolina.

Power to the Blueshirts

The Rangers have scored power-play goals in three of the six games so far. They have won each of those games. Coincidence? We think not. If their power play gets cooking again in Game 7, they could be tough to beat.

After Jersey dominated most of the first period of Game 6 on Saturday, leading 1-0, Chris Kreider scored a power-play goal with 25 seconds left in the period, a gut-punch equalizer. The Rangers soared afterward, including the first goal of the series by Mika Zibanejad. What if he’s now unlocked?

New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) and goalie Igor Shesterkin (31) celebrate after a 5-2 win against the New Jersey Devils in game six of the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Devils may play a little more cautiously in Game 7. Head coach Lindy Ruff and several players expressed displeasure with several penalty calls against them in Game 6. "Some of the calls were questionable," said the Devils' Tomas Tatar. "I guess we have to be more careful."

Overall in the series, the Rangers are 5-for-24 (20.8 percent) with a man advantage and endured an 0-for-14 streak that began in Game 2 and lasted into Game 6. During the regular season, they were seventh-best in the NHL at 24.1 percent.

Goalie controversy?

Whoever the Devils put in goal, the decision has a chance to linger long beyond just this first-round series. Akira Schmid gave the Devils a boost with superlative play in three straight games, all Jersey victories, before the Rangers got to him in Game 6. Will there be carryover, with New Jersey seemingly planning to go with Schmid over Vitek Vanecek? Vanecek, who made 48 starts during the regular season, played the first two games of the series and lost both, though Ruff has been steadfast that his team’s play in front of Vanecek was the real reason the Rangers took a 2-0 series lead.

Schmid -- a 22-year-old from Switzerland -- is 3-1 with a 1.72 goals-against average, one shutout and a .937 save percentage in the series. Ruff said there’d be a discussion about who to start that included executives such as GM Tom Fitzgerald and Hall-of-Famer Martin Brodeur, the Devils' executive VP of hockey operations.

"We’ve got a bank of information and guys that have been through a lot of teams," Ruff said. "And we got one of the best goalies in the history of hockey that we can rely on, what he thinks, too."

Whoever is in net, the Rangers figure to try to crowd the crease the way they did in Game 6 and try to get shots from the slot. "You could tell they had more and more bodies in front of the net," Schmid said after Game 6.

Advancing may depend on the Rangers doing it again.

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Momentum has been a wacky concept in this series and trends seem to fizzle as the series goes on. Ruff noted that the hockey world thought the Devils were "dead and gone" after the first two games. And after the Rangers lost three straight and looked bad in two of those games, they seemed doomed, too. Not so.

Home ice has been fickle – each team has won exactly one home game so far and both teams have won twice on the road. In the first two games, the Devils looked jittery, something Ruff confirmed. And then they had their playoff legs under them, speeding around the ice in the next four games.

At this point, anything could tilt this series. Here’s a solid choice: Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin. He sparkled Saturday night and won two Game 7s last year, stopping 39 of 42 shots in an overtime win over Pittsburgh and 37 of 39 in a victory in Carolina. This year, the Rangers have allowed the fewest goals per game in the playoffs – 2.17 – and Shesterkin is obviously a huge part of that.