Photo Credit: Claudio J. De La Rosa

Schmid puts exclamation mark on great series

Hall of Fame goaltender and Devils executive Martin Brodeur showed up in the Devils’ suite to support his team in Game 7 of their first-round series against the New York Rangers on Monday night at Prudential Center. There was a camera shot of him using the Devils' rally towel to get the Devils fans going before the opening faceoff.

There’s no doubt he was thinking about his playing days when he played in several Game 7s for the Devils during their glory years. He also had to be thinking if Devils goaltender Akira Schmid was ready for a moment like that in what was the first Game  7 of his career.

Schmid has shined since he was inserted to start Game 3 after the Rangers scored 10 goals off Devils goaltender Vitek Vanecek in the first two games of the first-round series. He has given the Devils a spark, with which they won three games in a row when he started. He struggled in Game 6 by allowing five goals, which had Vanecek replace him for the final 7:32 of regulation.

This led to speculation whether Schmid would start Game 7, which was nonsense since it was hard to believe Devils head coach Lindy Ruff would give up on him over one bad game. Changing goaltenders would reek of panic, and Ruff knew it would not be a good idea, especially after Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery decided to change goaltenders in Game 7 by inserting Jeremy Swayman instead of the struggling Linus Ullmark, this year's Vezina Trophy favorite. It turned out to be the wrong decision since the Bruins lost the Panthers in Game 7 that denied them from advancing to the next round.

Schmid received the start for Game 7, and he was excellent in making 31 saves that helped him earn a shutout in the Devils’ 4-0 victory that made him worthy of winning the first star of the game. He joined Carey Price, Ilya Bryzgalov, Felix Potvin and Chico Resch as rookie goaltenders to have a Game 7 shutout in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He also became the second goalie in franchise history to record a Game Seven shutout, joining Brodeur for that distinction.

Overall, he won four of five games in this series with two shutouts, 1.39 GAA and a .951 save percentage. Not bad for a goaltender that started 18 games overall in his career to come in and save the Devils' season after it appeared the Rangers would make it a quick series.

Here’s what was impressive about him in this game and in this series: his poise and command. He played like he was meant for this moment. Every time a shot would come in his direction, he was there to make a glove save as he did with Mika Zibanejad and Patrick Kane in the first period and then when he stoned Alexis Lafreniere to start the second period.

The Rangers did all they could to generate shots at him in the first period, and they got nothing out of it.

It just seemed like he was so possessed that the Rangers were too psyched out to shoot at him in the third period.

Just seeing Schmid making all these saves at so many angles is like watching a pitcher striking out hitters by using all of his six pitches -- a curve, cutter, sinker, four-seamer, slider and changeup.

For him to do well in a series of this magnitude, this speaks well about him. This wasn’t your ordinary playoff series. This was for bragging rights for the Devils and their fans. This was a chance for the Devils to finally erase the thought of the Rangers owning them for good. Yes, 2012 was great when Adam Henrique beat Henrik Lundqvist in overtime, which would seal a Devils’ win against the Rangers and advance them to the Stanley Cup Final, but the Devils had to do it again to ensure the Rangers' hex is really over.

Of course, there was pressure for him to deliver in Game 7. He certainly showed he had the goods to get it done with his stone-cold approach.

Who knows what the 22-year-old goaltender does in the next round and beyond? Maybe he does well enough to convince Ruff and Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald that he can be a starter next year and beyond.

Schmid knows he has the goods to start, and his performance against the Rangers backs it up. He would love to be a starting goaltender for good. This postseason gives him the opportunity to get this position.

The Devils would love to get stability with their goaltending situation once and for all. They thought Mackenzie Blackwood would have been the guy, but he never established himself. They acquired Vanecek from the Carolina Hurricanes this offseason to push Blackwood for the starting job, and Vanecek won in training camp. He performed well all season for the Devils, but he raised questions at times, including in the playoffs, about whether he can be a legitimate starting goaltender that can elevate his team.

Schmid has a chance mainly because of his age. If he can be that guy for years to come, the Devils could get back to being a Stanley Cup contender. Shoot, if he plays like this, they can win the Stanley Cup this year.

His story gets interesting as the Devils continue their postseason run and ascent. What else does he have in store? Obviously, there’s more where it came from. He psyched the Rangers out in this series.

After watching what the current Devils goaltender did in his Game 7 after wondering if he was up for it, Brodeur had to express his seal of approval and even had some nostalgia, seeing a lot of himself in Schmid.

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

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