Well, whaddya know. The Devils, a team with 112 points in the regular season and a dynamic young star in Jack Hughes, were not prepared to politely step aside and usher the Rangers into the second round of the playoffs.
To those among us who thought they were toast after a pair of 5-1 losses at home — yup, my hand is raised — the Devils had an answer on Saturday night in the form of a 2-1 overtime victory in Game 3 at Madison Square Garden.
It trimmed the Rangers’ lead in the series to 2-1 and reminded everyone that playoff victories are not supposed to be as easy as those first two looked.
Things that changed from the first two games:
The Rangers’ power play, which had been humming, was 0-for-5.
“I think we became a little bit too slow and I think the big thing for us the first two games was moving the puck,” Mika Zibanejad said.
And the overly creative, excessive passing attempts that have been a trademark of this team but were gone in Games 1 and 2 suddenly were back.
“We tried to get a little cute, I think,” coach Gerard Gallant said.
In the end, it was a fairly even game before a crowd full of celebrities, including the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, Harrison Bader and Anthony Volpe and the Giants’ Daniel Jones, Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen.
Oh, and Stephane Matteau showed up to haunt the dreams of Devils fans old enough to remember 1994.
In other words: Showtime!
But then it turned into one of those nights for the home team. Someone named Akira Schmid showed up in goal for the Devils and played well.
Meanwhile, Igor Shesterkin did his goalie job well, as usual, but the Devils’ first goal came on a power play that resulted from Shesterkin twice punching Timo Meier after Meier invaded his personal space in the goalmouth.
Now what? Well, the Rangers surely are thinking about nothing other than Game 4 on Monday in the aftermath of Dougie Hamilton’s goal at 11:36 of extra time.
But this is another thing to consider for those of us who see in the Rangers a team with the potential to be something very special this playoff season.
Winning this series in any number of games is the baseline goal, but winning it in five is better than the other two options.
Efficiency counts at this time of year. Which means not playing any longer or harder than necessary en route to the 16 victories required to parade the Stanley Cup.
Forget that stuff about quick playoff series and long layoffs creating rust.
That does happen sometimes, certainly, and there are many examples of every sort of playoff path for Stanley Cup winners.
But hockey is a fast, tough game, and fatigue and injuries both are real issues during the long slog to the Final.
Consider a recent example: the 2021-22 Rangers.
Their playoff journey began with a triple-overtime loss to the Penguins, whom they eventually needed seven games to eliminate.
Then they played the Hurricanes and needed seven games to eliminate them.
Then they played the Lightning, won the first two games and lost four in a row, scoring a total of five goals in those games.
“We ran out of gas [last year] and we had a lot of injuries that people didn’t know about until the summertime, obviously, like Tampa Bay did, too,” Gallant said Friday. “So it was about running out of personnel. We had a lot of injuries.”
The Rangers’ two lopsided victories over the Devils in this series had many recalling the famed 1993-94 Rangers, who opened with a sweep of the Islanders in which they had a 22-3 scoring advantage.
Then they dispatched the Capitals in five games.
Perhaps those two relatively easy opening series girded them for the seven-game battles to come against the Devils and Canucks. You know how that season ended.