Another playoff series, another Game 7 for the New York Rangers. This series with the Devils has been an odd one, with goalies saving the day for both teams, but neither team really showing consistent dominance. It’s a true toss up tonight, as both teams are evenly matched. The Rangers have the true wild card with Igor Shesterkin, and if he pulls a Henrik Lundqvist, then the Rangers are in a good spot. However a goalie can’t win if his team doesn’t score, which has been the issue this series. The Rangers Game 7 checklist certainly includes balanced scoring, and perhaps turning the game into a track meet?
1. Igor Shesterkin. If he is off, the game is over before it starts. He is the single most important Ranger right now.
2. The second most important Ranger? Adam Fox. Simply put, the Rangers win when Fox is having himself a night.
The Rangers are undefeated in the playoffs when Adam Fox notches two or more points (9-0)
The Rangers have a .444 win% when Adam Fox notches one point (4-5)
The Rangers have not won a playoff game where Adam Fox does not record a point (0-11) pic.twitter.com/oyLJLE0BDr
— RangersMuse (@nyrangersmuse) April 30, 2023
If Fox is going, then the Rangers are scoring. Naturally, scoring means good things when it’s Shesterkin in net. Fox’s scoring also means the Rangers are likely getting powerplay opportunities and goals, which is a big thing this series. Don’t expect there to be many calls tonight in Game 7, so the Rangers will need to capitalize on their chances. That means Fox is running PP1 to perfection. If the powerplay is scoring, the Rangers are again in a good spot. It’s been the difference maker this series.
3. Powerplay scoring goes beyond just Adam Fox. Mika Zibanejad in his office is key, as is Vladimir Tarasenko presenting a shooting option from the other circle. Artemi Panarin may be missing this series, but he’s still a distraction in the bumper that opens up options for Zibanejad, Tarasenko, Fox, and Chris Kreider in front. Getting good looks is important, but they need to finish. Note: Hit the net.
The other important aspect of the powerplay is Patrick Kane. He should not be shoehorned into PP1 just because he’s Patrick Kane. It didn’t work in Games 3-5, and it shouldn’t be attempted again. Let the powerplay that works cook, and let Kane work with PP2 to generate some additional offense.
4. The Rangers have done a wonderful job keeping the Nico Hischier line in check. It’s been a bit of a sacrifice, with Zibanejad’s offense being the sacrificial lamb here in exchange for taking out the Devils top line. That needs to continue for one more game. Both teams have been wildly inconsistent offensively, but taking out Hischier and Jesper Bratt favors the Rangers. Both have a number of assists, but if the Rangers can keep them off the score sheet, it means they are doing something right.
5. The Rangers were finally able to break through the Devils’ 1-2-2 trap in Game 6. They switched to a much more aggressive 1-2-2 forecheck in that game, sending F1 deep while F2/F3 were around the tops of the circles, instead of by the blue line. The Devils had a hard time defending this, leading to turnovers and sustained offensive zone time for the Rangers. Despite the speed, the Devils were overwhelmed. It’s a double-edged sword of course, as the Devils are capable of getting the outlet pass to start a rush.
But if it comes to a track meet, I’ll take Shesterkin over Akira Schmid –who has been fantastic, by the way– ten times out of ten.
6. Of course with Schmid, the answer is getting in front of the net and getting shots at him. Not only is he leaving rebounds, but the Devils have been pretty bad at covering the net front all series. Schmid was rattled in Game 6, and getting the first goal or two will likely rattle the young netminder again. Exploit his weaknesses with rebounds and top shelf shots.
7. K’Andre Miller needs to be better. Now is the best time for him to put his struggles behind him and have a breakout game. Getting matched against Jack Hughes hasn’t been helping, but if anyone besides Panarin is due for a big game it’s him.
8. And potentially the Kid Line, which also has been held in check for the most part. They are getting the cycle and the chances. Sooner or later, one will go in. If the Kid Line outscores the Devils bottom six, it again bodes well.
9. The Rangers Game 7 checklist seems like a bunch of hockey fundamentals, and it is. When the Rangers are winning in this series, they are winning puck battles, getting to the net, and getting shots on net. When they are losing, they are playing passive hockey and missing the net. Aggressive hockey beats the Devils. Passive hockey lets the Devils simply waltz right into the offensive zone with speed. Be aggressive. B-E aggressive.