Rangers must respond after taking Devils’ Game 3 punch

If it is an axiom that players and teams need to have short memories in the playoffs — and it is — then the Devils showed up at the Garden on Saturday as if they had gone through an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind treatment.

This was a different Devils team with, literally, a different goaltender in place as contrasted with the one that played the first two games at The Rock and suffered consecutive defeats to the Rangers.

This was a team that reminded everyone it finished the regular season with 112 points, five more than the Rangers.

But this was also a somewhat different Rangers team from the one that dominated in the two games in Newark. This was a Rangers team that never quite got on its horse, never quite got to its game, never quite rose to the moment yearned for by a Garden crowd that was more apprehensive than exuberant as the match evolved.

“I think it was probably a combination of them being better and us not being as sharp,” Barclay Goodrow said after the Devils won Game 3 on Dougie Hamilton’s overtime 2-1 winner as a trailer at 11:36 after Goodrow’s line had been beaten on the backtrack. “We knew they were obviously going to respond after losing two at home.

“We knew it was coming. They definitely were a little bit better. We weren’t that sharp.”

Rangers defenseman Adam Fox watches the Devils celebrate after their 2-1 overtime win in Game 3.
Rangers defenseman Adam Fox watches the Devils celebrate after their 2-1 overtime win in Game 3.
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The Rangers’ work ethic was unimpeachable. Igor Shesterkin had a very strong game in net even as he was outplayed at the other end by the 22-year-old Swiss native, Akira Schmid, who was inserted in place of Vitek Vanecek one game too late. (Or, as this is a best-of-seven series, perhaps not late at all.)

Schmid was beaten only by Chris Kreider’s laser off a two-on-one rush feed from Mika Zibanejad, a play that began with Patrick Kane poking the puck off Ondrej Palat’s stick at the Rangers’ blue line. That gave the Blueshirts a 1-0 lead at 3:39 of the second period after a strong first period in which Schmid made key stops on a pair of Zibanejad power-play one-timers from the slot in the match’s sixth minute.

That was a harbinger of things to come. The Blueshirts, who had clicked at 40 percent on the man advantage in New Jersey (4-for-10), went 0-for-5 with six shots on net in 10:00 Saturday. The Rangers never seemed as crisp in moving the puck as they had in the first two games.

At even-strength, they appeared somewhat disconnected. Their puck support came and went. They were unable to contain the Devils below the hash marks. That wasn’t on one line. It was on all of them.

Chris Kreider checks Timo Meier during the Rangers' 2-1 overtime loss.
Chris Kreider checks Timo Meier during the Rangers’ 2-1 overtime loss.
Paul J. Bereswill

“I don’t think we did as good a job getting to the inside as we did the first two games,” said Kreider, who became the first player in franchise history to record five goals in the first three games of the playoffs. “We got better as the game went on but we needed more at the start.

“We had a good approach in the first two games in getting pucks and bodies to the net early. It was on and off tonight.”

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Goodrow, whose line with Jimmy Vesey and Tyler Motte on the flanks had only two shifts in OT, kept coming back to the word, “sharp.” It was appropriate. There were too many shots that missed the net. There were too many passes that went awry. The Devils yielded nothing in this one. The Rangers just couldn’t quite grab what they needed.

“They press hard everywhere, trying to force turnovers that lead to a counter-attack,” Zibanejad said. “I think there were times in this game that we made the wrong decisions.”

The Rangers had six giveaways in Game 1. They had three — “One, two, three,” said the Count — in Game 2. But on Saturday, pressured all over the ice, the Blueshirts had 17 giveaways through regulation and 19 overall.

Igor Shesterkin makes one of his 26 saves during the Rangers' Game 3 overtime loss.
Igor Shesterkin makes one of his 26 saves during the Rangers’ Game 3 overtime loss.
Paul J. Bereswill

Again, they were just a little bit off. Even so, they held the 1-0 edge midway through the second period, before Jack Hughes deflected one off Shesterkin’s stick and in on a power-play wrister from the left circle at 10:07. It was Shesterkin whose penalty for roughing had given the Devils the man advantage. That’s when he started punching Timo Meir (a pain in the neck for three straight games) after he had fallen into the netminder.

The game took on a conservative bent almost immediately following Hughes’ tying goal. The Rangers’ best chances missed the net, including two within seconds off the stick of a frustrated Artemi Panarin after he’d been set up gloriously, first by Kane and then by Zibanejad, on a power play with just over five minutes remaining in regulation.

Panarin launched nine attempts. Only two hit the target, with three blocked and four missing the net. The Rangers had 18 attempts on the power play with only six on net. That is not necessarily a winning formula.

And so the Battle of the Hudson has been joined. Game 4 comes up Monday. Now it’s the Rangers who need to respond.

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𝗖𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗶𝘁𝘀, 𝗖𝗼𝗽𝘆𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 & 𝗖𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘁𝗲𝘀𝘆:
𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗶𝗻𝘁𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝗴𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗗𝗠𝗖𝗔,
𝗣𝗹𝗲𝗮𝘀𝗲 𝘀𝗲𝗻𝗱 𝘂𝘀 𝗮𝗻 𝗲𝗺𝗮𝗶𝗹 𝗮𝘁

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