Vincent Trocheck has been on both sides now, a Game 7 opponent playing for the ’Canes last year and a Ranger now preparing for Monday’s Game 7 against the Devils at the Rock.
“I’m hearing these guys talk about how they won the series against Carolina and I’m clenching my fist and about to sucker them,” the summer free-agent signee said jokingly. “But seriously, I did have my own experience last year against these guys so I know how good they were and what they’re capable of.
“The biggest thing was how fast they played. Even against a team like Carolina that plays fast, it’s tough to keep up with us when we’re playing the way we know how with guys in your face and on playing on top of their opponent.”
Saturday night’s Game 6 was the first match of the series in which both teams played well. It was by far the best game of this Round 1, the 5-2 final score belying how competitive the match was through 48 minutes. The Devils were on top of their game through the opening period, wheeling out of their end and through the neutral zone like an Olympic gold medal winning speed-skating relay team. It was breathtaking.
But the Rangers worked at maximum capacity to get back. Urgency accompanied every shift, such as the one with about 9:30 to play in the first when Adam Fox scrambled back frantically to break up a two-on-one. The Rangers finished every hit, rubbed out every opponent they could catch. Perhaps frustrated, perhaps taken by the moment, the Devils lost their discipline and committed three minor penalties within 4:14 bridging the first and second periods.
“There’s more to playing fast than being fast with the puck,” said Trocheck. “Whenever you’re playing a team that’s fast, you have to play fast in a defensive sense, making sure you’re on top of guys instead of coasting into position, being right on a guy like Jack Hughes.
“That’s playing fast. It’s a lot harder to play against whenever you’re an offensive guy and a team is on top of you right away.”
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Physicality is a significant part of the template the Blueshirts established in avoiding elimination. How about that blow from Braden Schneider on which he slammed Timo Meier to the ice as No. 96 attempted to enter the zone with 6:45 remaining in the second period? How about K’Andre Miller, playing perhaps the most physical game of his career, riding down Nico Hischier 4:00 into the third? How about Jacob Trouba being Jacob Trouba and closing quickly on every puck-carrier (sometimes not) in sight?
(Igor Shesterkin, at the height of his power and spectacular in Game 6, is a rather significant part of the template, but you knew that already.)
“I think physicality is a big part of the playoffs, especially against a team like this when you’re trying to make sure to limit their time and space and where you want to eliminate a guy after he gets rid of the puck to prevent him from getting it back,” said Trocheck, sporting a mouse under his left eye after taking a late pop from Kevin Bahl. “But at the same time you can’t get too overly aggressive looking to go out of your way to make a hit. You have to make sure you’re doing it within the confines of the system.”
The Rangers have been here before and before and before. Chris Kreider, who turned 32 on Sunday, is 8-1 in Games 7 and, perhaps equal to the point, 21-8 in potential elimination games. Everyone other than Trocheck, Patrick Kane, Vlad Tarasenko, Niko Mikkola and Jimmy Vesey was here last year when the Blueshirts beat both Pittsburgh and Carolina in Game 7s while avoiding elimination five times.
The big dogs rumbled on Saturday. Kreider, Zibanejad and Tarasenko all scored. Kane was high-stepping for the first time since Game 2. Artemi Panarin initiated, attacked and was a threat. But the fourth line with Vesey and Tyler Motte flanking Barclay Goodrow also made an impact. Pucks and bodies went to the net.
It was no longer a picnic for Akira Schmid, who allowed five goals on 22 shots within a span of 32:53 from 19:35 of the first period until the Swiss was pulled at 12:28 of the third. Traffic and shot volume are also components of the template.
Battle of the Hudson VII has a Game VII, winner onto Carolina for Round 2. Loser home to lament lost opportunity and for the Rangers, essentially a lost season.
“You prepare for these elimination games and put everything into them. I don’t want to get too dramatic but it’s like your life is flashing before your eyes,” Trocheck told The Post. “This whole season, we play 82 regular season games, come into the playoffs and if you’re done in Round 1 it’s like, ‘What was it all for?’
“You’re thinking about things you could have done, things you did right, things you did wrong, and it’s emotional. Game 7 is special. It always brings out the best of emotions in everybody.”