NHL News

Rangers-Devils Game 7: Key players, matchups and final score predictions

As the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs began, we hoped that the latest edition of the Battle of the Hudson between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils would be one of the best series of the first round. The two teams have certainly obliged us.

After a back-and-forth affair through six games, the two teams take the ice tonight at the Prudential Center in Newark for Game 7 (8 ET, ESPN).

Which players will be the X factors in pushing their team to victory in this pivotal clash? And who do our writers believe will win Game 7, moving on to take on the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round?

Who is the one key player you’ll be watching in Game 7 for the Rangers?

Ryan S. Clark, NHL reporter: Adam Fox. Not sure whether any of you have ever been to a church fish fry, but there is always that one person who cleans the fish, cooks the fish, serves the fish and cleans the tables after everyone goes home. Adam Fox is the hockey equivalent of that.

Victoria Matiash, NHL analyst: Mr. Clutch himself, Chris Kreider. Only Mark Messier has as many career goals (16) in potential elimination games for the Rangers. Good company, no? Plus, every time Kreider has scored on the power play this series — five of his six goals with the extra skater — the Rangers have won. Exceptional in the two Newark games to open the series, the veteran forward was a force once more alongside Mika Zibanejad and Vladimir Tarasenko in Game 6. I like his chances of earning No. 17, and bypassing Messier, a lot Monday night.

Kristen Shilton, NHL reporter: Igor Shesterkin. This series could come down to a last-goal-wins situation. Akira Schmid has been a surprising stalwart for the Devils. Shesterkin is as all-world as they come. We know the Rangers can generate offense (hello, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad & Co.) but I want to see how Shesterkin holds up against the potential onslaught from New Jersey’s hungry core of young stars determined to prove their playoff mettle.

Greg Wyshynski, NHL reporter: Mika Zibanejad. The Rangers center finally broke through with a goal in Game 6. Coach Gerard Gallant moved Vladimir Tarasenko up with Zibanejad and Kreider, and they were the Rangers’ best trio in Game 6. He has a goal and three assists against the Devils and he’s no stranger to Game 7 heroics: Zibanejad had a goal and five assists in their series finale wins over Carolina and Pittsburgh last postseason.

Who is the one key player you’ll be watching in Game 7 for the Devils?

Clark: Akira Schmid. He’s one of the biggest reasons why the Devils climbed out of a 2-0 series hole to be a win away from the second round. Does one poor performance send him to the bench? Or does Lindy Ruff return to someone who, until Game 6, had been almost perfect, with a .976 save percentage?

Matiash: Jack Hughes and his performances in Games 3 and 4, along with Schmid’s midseries dominance, are enormous reasons the Devils are still lacing them up. The Rangers’ top assets came to play Saturday, effectively gifting us Monday’s Game 7. Now New Jersey’s elite skater has to be his very best self if the home side is to have any hope of moving on to the second round.

Shilton: Nico Hischier. New Jersey’s captain hasn’t been lighting it up offensively in this series, but he’s one of the Devils’ most reliable two-way players. He knows how to manage the game well, can be a playmaker and just brings a sense of calm on the ice. That’s what a team often needs in situations where emotions run high (i.e., elimination games). This will be a major moment for Hischier not just in terms of his on-ice performance but his leadership across the board.

Wyshynski: Timo Meier. The Devils made a trade deadline blockbuster for the San Jose Sharks star in the hopes that he could be a veteran force in a physical playoff series. Through six games, he doesn’t have a point against the Rangers. It’s not for a lack of trying. Although he has been dropped from the Hischier line to the Devils’ third line, Meier has continued to pepper Shesterkin with shots: 24 on goal on 46 even-strength attempts. If he breaks out in Game 7, his series-long drought fades into a footnote. And that’s why they acquired him: to make a difference.

What’s your final score prediction?

Clark: Rangers win 3-2 in OT. Five of the six games in this series have been won by two or more goals. But we’ve also seen so many series-clinching games in this year’s playoffs decided by one goal. Maybe Devils-Rangers does the same?

Matiash: Rangers win 4-1. Too many of New York’s key performers have been in this position before, with the pressure ramped up. That extra experience will make the difference. Plus, I can’t see Igor Shesterkin not being anything short of outstanding in this tilt.

Shilton: Rangers win 5-3. New Jersey is such an excellent story and has played so well at times in this series. But there’s a reason that fourth win is the hardest to get. Sometimes it takes practice at losing to learn how to win. New York has the experience. It has the goaltending edge. They have a lineup of stars that got a huge boost from their Game 6 victory. Momentum is a powerful force and it’s hard not to see it carrying New York into the next round.

Wyshynski: Rangers win 4-2. I think the Devils have shown they can win any game against the Rangers when they’ve cranked up their speedy, puck-hounding 5-on-5 game like they did for most of the first period in Game 6. The problem is that game has tended to disappear whenever the Devils are feeling a modicum of expectations in this series: Games 1 and 2 at home and then again in Game 6, when they had their first crack at eliminating the Rangers. Penalties are a key reason, and that speaks directly to whether they’re disciplined enough for the moment. The Rangers have been here before. I think that experience, and an advantage in goal, carries them through.

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