– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
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NEWARK, NEW JERSEY — As is now the case when a Swiss athlete performs like a champion on the biggest stage, New Jersey Devils goaltender Akira Schmid, after another historic performance in goal put his team on the cusp of a playoff series victory more than a decade in the making, was asked in his postgame media availability of his newfound fame has led to a phone call from tennis legend Roger Federer. As much as Schmid’s cool under pressure has mirrored that of the 20-time Grand Slam singles champion, Schmid admitted sheepishly that the great Federer had not hit up his newly-flooded phone line.
A few more performances like the one he put on Thursday night, along with his teammates in front of him, and Schmid may become an international start sooner rather than later.
Schmid continued his stellar play in goal for the Devils, stopping all 23 shots as the Devils thoroughly dominated the New York Rangers in a 4-0 thrashing that sees the Devils take a 3-2 series lead to Madison Square Garden for Saturday’s Game 6. Schmid’s shutout was just the second shutout by a goaltender in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, just one day after the Dallas Stars Jake Oettinger posted a shutout of the Minnesota Wild in a Game 5 in the Western Conference.
Of course, like Federer, Schmid excelled on the biggest stage his sport has to offer, coming in to start in relief of New Jersey’s No. 1 goaltender during the regular season, Vitek Vanacek, before Game 3 at a raucous Madison Square Garden and with the Devils staring a 2-0 series deficit — and a legitimate threat of being swept out of the first round — in the face.
All the 22-year-old Swiss goalkeeper has done since he’s gone in between the pipes in the postseason is stop 80 out of 82 shots in three games, pick up three postseason wins for himself and his team and, in the process, join a shortlist of nine goalies in NHL history to have allowed two or fewer goals combined in his first three career starts in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If it sounds like a thrilling experience, it is…even if the composed Schmid sounded more like he finished a light scrimmage than an emotionally-charged playoff game amidst the near-deafening noise of the Prudential Center.
“As much pressure as there is, you just got to take it like any other game and focus on what you can do,” Schmid said afterward.”
What Schmid did was make the routine saves. What Schmid did was makes saves through traffic. What Schmid has done is give the Devils the lift it needed after it looked for all the world that the Devils’ Game 2 loss seven days ago would be the last game at the Prudential Center this season.
What Schmid also has done is make his teammates question whether the goalkeeper actually has a pulse.
“He’s making it look so easy. We were joking to check his pulse after the game,” Devils captain Nico Hischier said about his fellow Swiss. “It seems just like he’s never losing his mind or never losing his focus. He makes those saves look easy, and obviously it’s a push to the team and gives confidence to the team. Mistakes are going to happen and we know he’s got our back.”
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