Game 7 of Rangers vs Devils is the last of NHL’s first round

Game 7 of Rangers vs Devils is the last of NHL’s first round

(AP) Game 7 is nothing new to the New York Rangers.

“It seems like we play in a lot of them, unfortunately,” veteran forward Chris Kreider said.

This time, they’re happy about it and in a familiar spot against an opponent that doesn’t have the same experience. After winning at home to avoid elimination, the Rangers visit the rival New Jersey Devils in Game 7 on Monday night to wrap up the first round and decide who’ll take on the Carolina Hurricanes.

“It’s a lot of stress and a lot of pressure, but also it’s one game,” Rangers winger and 2019 Stanley Cup champion Vladimir Tarasenko said. “Either you win and advance or you don’t.”

New York is in a seventh and deciding game for the third time in four series. New Jersey has 12 players — more than half the lineup — who have never played in a Game 7 in the NHL.

“What a game to be in: Where would you rather be?” said Devils coach Lindy Ruff, who’s 0-4 behind the bench in a Game 7 at this level. “It’s something that if you’re a little kid growing up, you’re going to sit there and go, ‘Man, I’d love to play in that game.’ We worked hard all year to get to this point.”

Game 7 is happening across the Hudson River in Newark because the Devils finished five points ahead of the Rangers in the standings. But it may not matter where, considering the Rangers won the first two games on the road and lost two of three at home.

Yes, it’s been a weird series.

“Every given night, any team can win,” Devils forward Dawson Mercer said. “They got the first two, then we got the next three. We’re going to be ready for the next game.”

It’s the third Game 7 already this playoffs after Panthers-Bruins and Kraken-Avalanche games Sunday night. It’s also the 50th game, making this the fourth-longest round in league history.

The Rangers and Devils are facing off in a Game 7 for the third time, but the previous two were in 1992 and 1994. Just eight of the 40 players expected to be in uniform were alive then, and perhaps only Patrick Kane (born in 1988) remembers either series won by New York.

So, this is an entirely different chapter. Devils forward Tomas Tatar, one of the players with Game 7 experience, thinks he and his teammates will be OK once they move past losing in their first chance to move on.

“If we stick with our plan and play our way, well be fine,” Tatar said. “It’s going to be a tough game. We knew coming into this series it was going to be a tough series. We need to stay calm, take a deep breath.”

Once they exhale, they’ll either have regular-season No. 1 goaltender Vitek Vanecek or playoff surprise Akira Schmid in net for Game 7. Vanecek lost Games 1 and 2 and Schmid stopped 80 of 82 shots in his first NHL playoff action before getting the hook Saturday night.

“We’ll have a discussion like we usually do with the coaches,” Ruff said.

There’s no doubt the Rangers will have reigning Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin in his usual spot — in the crease in a Game 7, which the whole team has become familiar with.

“We’ve been in this spot before: played Game 7 on the road, played big games on the road,” captain Jacob Trouba said. “Got to bring the same game.”

New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) passes the puck away from New Jersey Devils’ Jesper Bratt (63) during the first period of Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series Monday, April 24, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)