Lindy Ruff shows ability to shepherd Devils through rough times

Lindy Ruff shows ability to shepherd Devils through rough times
By: Posted On: April 26, 2023 View: 58

Two games into the Devils’ 82-game regular season, during their home opener, the chants began. “Fire Lin-dy.’’ That collective message rained down loud and clear, from the announced crowd of 16,514 on Oct. 15, over the Prudential Center ice like precipitation from a turbulent Jersey Shore summer thunderstorm . Two nights earlier, the Devils had lost their season opener 5-2 at Philadelphia. As the chants began, they were in the midst of a 5-2 loss to the Red Wings. “Fire Lin-dy.’’ Twenty-eight days later, during a Nov. 12 home game against the Coyotes, the Devils’ fan base apologized to head coach Lindy Ruff as chants of, “Sor-ry, Lin-dy,’’ echoed throughout the home building. The Devils were about to secure their ninth consecutive victory and 12th in the 13 games they had played since the “Fire Lin-dy’’ chants first emerged. Nine days later, that nine-game winning streak was at 13 and the Devils were 16-3 overall, a record that improved to 21-4 by Dec. 6, meaning Ruff’s team won 16 of its subsequent 17 games since the moment those premature and derogatory chants surfaced. Why bring that up now? Lindy Ruff has shown that he has been able to shepherd the Devils through adversity in the regular season and this playoff series vs. the Rangers.USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con Because, on Thursday night, Ruff will bring the Devils back home to the Rock to play Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Rangers. The best-of-seven series is tied 2-2 after the Rangers had taken a 2-0 lead with consecutive wins at Prudential Center last week. The series is knotted in large part because Ruff has outcoached his Rangers counterpart, Gerard Gallant, since the Devils fell into that 0-2 abyss before climbing out with consecutive wins at Madison Square Garden. Yes, players play, and the Devils’ players performed much better in the past two games than they did in the first two. But, coaches coach, too. Ruff has done a masterful job, not only tactically, but psychologically, resuscitating his players, whose confidence was sagging, perhaps due to their relative playoff inexperience compared to the Rangers. He pushed the biggest button that has been pressed this series when, after the two consecutive 5-1 home losses, he benched starting goaltender Vitek Vanecek in favor of Akira Schmid, a 22-year-old rookie from Switzerland. All Schmid (who was playing minor league hockey just months ago) has done is yield two goals in two games. Ruff, too, pored over film with his assistant coaches and players to figure out how to slow, or stop, the Rangers’ potent power play, which had produced four goals on its first seven chances in the series. Follow The Post’s coverage of the Rangers vs. Devils NHL playoff series The Rangers have gone 0-for-11 on the power play since and have looked uncharacteristically discombobulated, thanks to more aggressive play from the Devils’ penalty killers, who’ve deftly pushed Blueshirts point man Adam Fox off his game and rendered sniper Mika Zibanejad (zero goals in the series) invisible. Lindy RuffUSA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con Ruff, too, has found a way to unleash his speedy skaters, who had been bottled up by the Rangers in the first two games. As his team was falling behind in the series and looking overwhelmed by the moment, Ruff gave the appearance of being anything but rattled. He consistently talked about how he believes in his players and that they simply needed to get a “taste’’ of playoff hockey before they could become comfortable. Ruff’s level-headed, no-panic approach has trickled down to his players, who looked pretty damned comfortable playing in front of a raucous Garden crowd the past two games. The unassuming 63-year-old Ruff is (and will be) the last person to bask in credit. He’s even a bit reticent to speak about the “Fire Lin-dy’’ chants, because he doesn’t come across as the vindictive, “I told you so’’ type. “Isn’t that part of the area we live, though?’’ Ruff said Tuesday, recalling the appalling chants. “It’s a product our fans want to see us win, and I take full responsibility or the way team plays. It’s just really passionate fans saying, ‘Enough of this; we want to see this club win.’ ’’ Ruff’s players have his back. “He’s the guy that has a lot of experience, so that definitely helps,’’ Devils captain Nico Hischier said. “Our group of players, especially some for example, didn’t play one playoff game yet and so being down in series, I think he handled it well and gave us confidence.’’ Recalling those ridiculous chants, Hischier said: “Obviously, you understand the fans were expecting us to win games early in the year, We lost the first two and we have passionate fans here.’’ If the Devils faithful are truly knowledgeable fans, they’ll welcome Ruff back on Thursday night for a Game 5 some weren’t sure would ever come to fruition, with chants of “We love you, Lindy.’’ Adblock test (Why?)

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