NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Unexpected hero Akira Schmid rebounded from his only bad game and made 31 saves in Game 7 to lead the New Jersey Devils to a 4-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Monday night in an entertaining first-round playoff series.
Michael McLeod and Tomas Tatar scored second-period goals in the series decider and Erik Haula and Jesper Bratt added insurance goals in the third in the game between the longtime Hudson River rivals.
Coming off a franchise best 52-win season, the Devils will open the Eastern Conference semifinals on Wednesday against the Metropolitan Division-winning Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C. Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is on Friday night.
Igor Shesterkin was outstanding in defeat, stopping 20 shots, including Jack Hughes’ breakaway late in a scoreless first period.
Schmid who had played in a total of 24 regular-season games, was the difference in this series, posting two shutouts. After New York had a pair of 5-1 wins in the opening two games in New Jersey against starter Vitek Vanecek, Devils coach Lindy Ruff switched to the 22-year-old Swiss netminder.
Over the next five games, Schmid went 4-1, allowing a total of two goals in his first three games, including a 4-0 shutout in Game 5. He was driven from the net in Game 6 of a 5-2 loss in Madison Square Garden after giving up all five goals, but the Devils went with him in Game 7 and he delivered.
Schmid stopped a pair of Mike Zibanejad power-play blasts in the first period and made a great glove save on Vincent Trocheck with the score still 2-0 in the third period.
New Jersey broke things open midway through the second period on plays set up by playoff veteran Ondrej Palat and defenceman John Marino.
With the Rangers about to go on a power play, Palat, who won two Stanley Cups with Tampa Bay, outworked a slipping Chris Kreider and star defenceman Adam Fox along the right boards for a loose puck. He skated toward the net, slid a pass under a sliding Zibanejad and found McLeod, who patiently skated around Shesterkin and deposited a backhander into an empty net at 9:53 for a short-handed goal. It was his first goal since January.
Marino took a cross-ice pass from Nico Hischier at the Rangers’ right point later in the period, swept in on Shesterkin and had the puck slide off his stick to the corner. He retrieved it, and threw a blind pass toward the crease that found Tartar for quick shot into the net at 15:39.
Haula scored his fourth goal of the series with 5:33 left in the third period to send the send the crowd into a frenzy. Bratt added an empty-net goal with 3:19 to go and the series was all but over.
Schmid and Shesterkin were the story of the scoreless opening period. Shesterkin stopped Hughes on a breakaway with three minutes left in the period while Schmid stopped Zibanejad twice during New York’s three extra-man chances in the opening 20.
This was the seventh time the two rivals had met in the playoffs and the Devils cut the Rangers’ lead to 4-3. Two other series also went seven games with the Rangers taking both at Madison Square Garden. They posted a 2-1 win in the 1994 Eastern Conference final on Stephane Matteau’s wraparound goal in double overtime and 8-4 in the 1992 conference semifinal.
Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur waved a white towel just before the opening faceoff to rev up Devils fans. … For a home game, there were a lot of Blueshirts in the crowd. … Hughes took a major fall late in the first period when his feet went out from under him with no one near him. … Home teams are 112-81 in 193 Game 7s in the Stanley Cup playoff history, and 1-2 this year. Boston and Colorado lost at home on Sunday night.
AP NHL Playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Tom Canavan, The Associated Press