Photo Credit: Mark Fischgrund

Devils are finding out that playoff hockey is different

We tend to overrate playoff experience. It can go either way.

Sometimes a team that does not know better can somehow do well in its first taste of the playoffs, like the Seattle Kraken are doing against the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, in a series that is even at 1.

Then, you watch the Devils, and you see a team that is playing like they don’t know what hit them now that they are experiencing playoff hockey.

Forget the fact the Devils are down 2-0 to the Rangers after a 5-1 whooping on Thursday night at Prudential Center. Also, forget the fact the Devils have been outscored 10-2 in the first two games of a best-of-seven series.

Your eyes should tell you this is not the same Devils team that you saw in the regular season. They have no identity right now in the sense that they are not playing with exuberance out there. Quite frankly, they are playing like a team that is out of place in playoff hockey.

Playoff hockey tends to go at a much faster pace, and the Devils don’t know what it has hit them.

As head coach Lindy Ruff once said, it’s like men against boys out there. It does not take a hockey aficionado to find out which team is playing like men and which team is playing like boys.

In Game 1, the Devils performed an Islander-like power play by going 0-for-4 along with having 23 of 28 shots blocked and allowing 13 giveaways.

In Game 2, they went 1-for-4 on the power play along with having 16 of 23 shots blocked and allowing 15 giveaways.

This is a Devils team that is not playing with confidence and exuberance. They are playing scared right now, which is surprising considering how they made it look easy against the Rangers in the regular season series by winning three of four meetings this season. Remember this is the fifth-highest-scoring team in the NHL this season.

Here’s what’s damning: When the Rangers score a goal, it seems like the Devils don’t fight back; They just take it and deal with it rather than do something about it.

In Game 1, the Rangers scored the first goal, and the Devils just never responded. It avalanched into a 4-0 Rangers lead until Jack Hughes scored to give them their lone goal of the game.

In Game 2, the Devils took a 1-0 lead, but played like they were playing to lose. They played prevent defense, and they played like they expected the Rangers to take over eventually. They did just that by scoring three goals in the second period with Chris Kreider scoring two goals, including the first one breaking a 1-1 tie. It snowballed to five unanswered goals in the game.

The Rangers skated around the Devils in Game 2 as they did in Game 1.

There’s no doubt the Rangers applied their postseason experience well against a team getting its first postseason education. This is a team that is hitting the Devils at every opportunity. In Game 1, the Rangers dished 32 hits, and in Game 2, 39 hits.

The Devils are having a difficult time skating into the neutral zone and generating offense in the Rangers zone.

It’s hard to come up with any Devil that has played well in this series. Veterans such as Erik Haula, Timo Meier, Ondrej Palat, Tomas Tatar, Dougie Hamilton, Damon Severson and John Marino offered nothing; while young players such as Nico Hischier, Nathan Bastian, Michael McLeod, Nico Hischier and Dawson Mercer have been a non-factor.

The coaching hasn’t been great, either. It’s like the Rangers are playing chess and the Devils are playing checkers. The Rangers are one step ahead of their opponent and it’s clear they were well-prepared and well-coached heading into this series. The Devils, meanwhile, have no idea what hit them.

In net, Devils goaltender Vitek Vanecek seems more like a sieve than a goalie, so much so that he’ll likely be replaced by Akira Schmid in Game 3, simply to shake up the team with a fresh look.

It’s on Ruff to make moves before Saturday’s matchup. Changing goalies has got to be on the table. He might also need to insert Luke Hughes to give the team some muscle on the ice.

As much as we like to examine what moves the Devils have to make, the reality is they have to start showing some spunk. They need to think back to what made them great this season, namely being aggressive and playing with swagger. They can’t just settle for being bystanders. They need drivers out there who will be decisive and determined to make it happen.

At this point, it’s hard to imagine the Devils are winning the series. The two games certainly have to change a Devils fan’s thought process.

Unless the Devils figure it out, this will end up a short series. A sweep is still not out of the question, especially with the Devils heading to a madhouse at Madison Square Garden for Games 3 and 4.

It’s all mental at this point. The Devils can only change that. Of course, it’s easier said than done. There’s always trial and error in playoff hockey. For most of the Devils, it’s a whole new world.

Right now, this is about applying themselves and getting better. The margin of error is getting smaller and smaller.

You can read Leslie's Jersey Sporting News columns on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays


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