Losing games to a better team or when you give your best is one thing. Not meeting your own standard is quite another.
The New York Rangers are looking to correct what went wrong as they prepare to hit the road to face the New Jersey Devils on Thursday at Newark, N.J.
The Rangers and Devils are tied 2-2 heading into Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first-round series.
The road team has won all four games. The Rangers opened the series with consecutive convincing 5-1 victories, but the Devils responded with a 2-1 overtime win followed by Monday’s 3-1 victory — which included an empty-net goal to round out the scoring.
It was how the Rangers lost those games, especially in Game 4, that has them unsettled.
“We didn’t show up,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “We didn’t play hard enough. We didn’t compete hard enough. All we did was yap at the linesman for getting thrown out of faceoffs. A lot of bad things.”
The Rangers went from a dream start to the series to wondering how they can right their wrongs after two home games. They scored four power-play goals in the first two games but were blanked on eight opportunities at home.
“It might not have looked like it, (but) I think we’re overworking in a few situations,” Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad said. “I think we’re trying to do it all in one play and not just chip away and get into the game and earn our chances. When that happens, then I think we might wait for someone else to do it. We’ve got to get back to playing the way we played all year. We’ve got to trust ourselves.”
The Devils deserve credit for turning around their game, especially defensively.
New Jersey rookie goaltender Akira Schmid has risen to the occasion after the series changed venues, stopping 57 of 59 shots he has faced for a 0.91 goals-against average and a .966 save percentage. The 22-year-old is the second goalie in Devils history to win each of his first two playoff games (Chris Terreri, 1990).
“The defense in front is taking away sticks and our forwards are blocking shots, so that’s made my life easier,” Schmid said. “It’s been an amazing job the last two games.”
From tightening up defensively, the Devils have been able to start attacking with more confidence. They likely need to add more offense than they have produced so far the series, but the past couple of games have been a step forward.
“We were really focused on our own game, focused on what we were doing,” Devils forward Jack Hughes said. “That was a really good performance by us in the defensive zone and in the neutral zone in slowing them down. We got enough offense to win the game too.”
For their part, the Devils expect the Rangers to be improved and are well aware they must elevate their game.
“We are going to see their best game,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “There is no doubt, by far, we will see their best game.”
“We’ve taken a couple really good steps,” New Jersey forward Erik Haula added. “That Game 3 was really good for us as a whole, learning how hard it is to win, what you need to do to win, and same thing in Game 4. We stuck with it, and everyone is doing the right things.”