NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — With three straight wins, the young New Jersey Devils seized the momentum in their first-round series against the New York Rangers.
Come Saturday, they’ll be looking to advance to the second round for the first time since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 when they face the Rangers in Game 6 at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. EDT, ABC).
“As the series goes on the hardest win is always the fourth win to close a team out,” New Jersey forward Erik Haula said. “This is the first time this series is on the line. We know we'(re going to get their best, we’re going to get everything they got.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers also each have a chance to advance with a win in Game 6 on Saturday.
After missing the playoffs in nine of the previous 10 seasons and losing the series’ first two games by identical 5-1 margins at home, the Devils have picked up their defensive intensity, made a goalie change to rookie Akira Schmid and turned the series around just as it shifted across the Hudson River.
A 2-1 overtime win in Game 3 was followed by a 3-1 win in Game 4. They then returned home and had their best game of the series — a 4-0 win in Game 5 on Thursday night.
“We didn’t get too down after the two losses, you can’t get too high after the win,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “You have to be ready to put it behind you.”
Schmid, who turns 23 on May 12, has only allowed two goals on 82 shots over his three starts; Vitek Vanecek gave up nine goals on 52 shots in the first two games.
The Devils will try to keep shutting down the Rangers’ power play that has gone 0 for 10 over the last three games after scoring four times in the first two.
But the Rangers know they can even the series again with a win back home. During their run to the Eastern Conference final a year ago, they won five elimination games — coming back from a 3-1 series deficit against Pittsburgh in the first round and a 3-2 deficit against Carolina in the second round.
“It’s the first to four wins,” defenseman Adam Fox said. “We’ve been in this spot before. We didn’t want to put ourselves in this position but … we had success last year. Obviously we didn’t take care of business earlier but good opportunity for us here. … We just got to win Game 6.”
MAPLE LEAFS at LIGHTNING, Toronto leads 3-2 (7 p.m. EDT, TBS).
The Maple Leafs will try again for their first postseason series win in 19 years when they face the Lightning in in Game 6.
Tampa Bay extended the series with a 4-2 win at Toronto in Game 5 on Thursday night. That dropped the Maple Leafs to 0-11 when they have a chance to advance, a streak going back after they beat Ottawa in the first round in 2004.
“We’re just confident with our group,” Toronto defenseman Morgan Rielly said. “We’re here for a reason. We’ve played good hockey. We knew that they were going to come out and play hard. … We didn’t expect them to roll over, didn’t expect it to be easy. Now it’s important for our group to refocus (and) go on the road with a mission.”
Tampa Bay, which reached its third straight Cup Final last year, is also confident, as it will rely on its resilience and championship experience to force a deciding Game 7.
“Don’t bet against the guys — not that group,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I’m not saying we’ve won the series. We’ve won one game and still have so far to go.”
OILERS at KINGS, Edmonton leads 3-2 (10 p.m. EDT, TBS).
The Oilers will try to for their third straight win to close out the series after moving to the brink of advancing with a 6-3 win at home on Tuesday night.
“We can’t get too high on ourselves,” Oilers forward Nick Bjugstad said. “That squad is good over there. They’ve shown they’re pretty resilient too. … You’ve got to have a short memory if you lose and I think it’s the same if you win. You’ve just got to have a new-day mentality.”
After setting an NHL record with a 32.4% success rate on the power play during the season, Edmonton has been even better in this series — 8 for 14. Ironically, they were only 2 for 13 with the advantage against the Kings during the regular season.
“They had some success against us in the regular season,” Oilers star Connor McDavid said. “They work us hard. But, the strength of our power play is winning battles. It always has been. It’s not structure, it’s not anything fancy, although it may look fancy.”
The Kings know they need to start games better after falling behind 2-0 and 3-1 in the first period of Game 5.
“We have to be ready to go right off the bat,” Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty said. ” … At home your juices might be flowing a little more with the home crowd on your side.”
Follow Vin Cherwoo at http://www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP
AP NHL Playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Vin A. Cherwoo, The Associated Press