Back on November 20, the Devils traveled down to Tampa and electrified the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in come-from-behind fashion.
Tonight was a little more straight forward for a Devils-Lightning game as the Bolts defeated the Devils 3-2 in regulation to hand New Jersey their third loss in their last four games.
First off, some roster shifting due to injuries.
Dougie Hamilton (broken jaw) skated with the Devils at practice on Wednesday and traveled with the team on the current three-game road trip. Hamilton wore a no contact jersey and had on a lower face shield while skating as he is on the road to recover.
Fellow blue liner Ty Smith (upper body) also skated on Wednesday as he had been placed on Injured Reserve retroactive to January 19. He traveled with the Devils to Florida and had missed the last three games. The Devils got good news when Smith was activated off of IR and was cleared to play tonight.
The subtractions saw Michael McLeod being placed on IR in Smith’s stead. McLeod did not practice on Wednesday and did not travel with the Devils after he took a huge right hand from the Dallas Stars’ Luke Glendening in a fight on Tuesday night. McLeod is officially listed with an upper body injury.
McLeod missed his first game of the season tonight. Jesper Boqvist slotted in for him up front.
He joined goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, who was placed on IR on Tuesday due to his left heel.
Mason Geertsen and Marian Studenic were the healthy scratches up front while Christian Jaros slotted back out on the blue line due to Smith returning.
Jon Gillies got the start with Blackwood out and made 32 saves on Tampa’s 35 total shots against for a .914 save percentage on the night.
He turned aside five of their six shorthanded shots and let in one of their two power play shots as Tampa was 1-for-1 on the power play as a team (a 100-percent conversion rate). At five-versus-five, Gillies made 26 saves on 27 shots.
Going for the champs was Andrei Vasilevskiy. He stopped 31 of the Devils’ 33 total shots for a .939 save percentage. He was equal to four of he Devils five power play shots as they went 1-for-3 on the man advantage. Vasilevskiy stopped 27-of -28 shots at full strength.
Tonight officially started the second half of the schedule for the Devils, just about a week out from the All-Star Game. However, their three-game road trip before the break will see them face the teams with the second (Tampa Bay), fourth (Carolina) and fifth points percentage getters in the NHL currently – all in their home buildings.
The Devils would try to capitalize on a quick start just 4:33 into the game.
The Lightning had lost Mikhail Sergachev to a high-sticking minor 3:10 against Yegor Sharangovcih to put the Devils on the power play.
Here, Jesper Bratt worked the puck around the perimeter to Damon Severson at the point. Severson stepped up and shot. He had created some time and space. Severson just snapped a shot towards the net. It seemed that it may have been tipped in front by either Nico Hischier and/or Nathan Bastian. Instead, it seemed to go in off of a Bolts player for the New Jersey power play goal.
The goal was a result of the Devils just being able to keep the puck alive in the Tampa Bay zone just prior to the goal. It was good hard work that resulted in a goal.
And speaking of hard work on the other side (and defensively), Tampa’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare made a nice defensive play when he was able to clear the crease of a sure Devils’ goal later in the first period. The puck had gotten behind Vasilevskiy and Bellemare was Johnny-on-the-spot to sweep the puck aside and save a surefire Devils goal from happening.
The Lightning got the game tied in the second period on the power play. Andreas Johnsson was gone for a high-sticking on Alex Killorn to set Tampa Bay up on the man advantage.
Killorn made the Devils pay 1:46 into the second period. Steven Stamkos passed off the half wall to Victor Hedman at the point. Hedman blasted a shot on net. Gillies made the initial save but Killorn was in front to keep jamming away at the puck until he scored to make it 1-1.
The game began to fall apart for the Devils in the middle of the second beginning, of all things, with the Lightning taking a double minor for high-sticking. Jan Rutta got called for four minutes on Jonas Siegenthaler.
Tampa ended up dictating the play and putting a lot of pressure on the Devils for the majority of the four-minute power play.
During the middle of the four-minute Devils man advantage, with 6:10 left in the frame, Anthony Cirelli was hauled down on a shorthanded breakaway with a clear scoring chance and was awarded a penalty shot.
Gillies turned him aside in a seemingly big moment for the Devils. This would surely be a way for New Jersey to turn things around and get moving on the rest of their power play attack.
Except that a minute or so later, as the Devils still have almost half of the four minutes left, Mathieu Joseph came up the right-wing boards and shot. Gillies made the initial save and then could not locate the puck as it fell behind the Devils goalie and sat behind him in the crease. Joseph skated by and tapped the puck in behind Gillies to give the Lightning the 2-1 lead.
This goal came unassisted and was the 11th shorthanded goal allowed by the Devils this season.
Bratt had a chance late in the second period off of a stretch pass that sprung him in on Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy stopped him to keep Tampa up.
Vasilevskiy started the third period the same way. He stopped Jack Hughes early off of a great 2-on-1 play with Yegor Sharangovich.
Hughes would convert, though, with 10:55 gone by in the third period to tie the game at two.
Severson gave the puck to Bratt, who circled around the zone before gaining a clear shooting lane. He shot from up top in the zone and his blast rebounded off of the end boards and right to Hughes as Hughes was cutting in towards the net. Hughes put the rebound behind Vasilevskiy to make it 2-2.
Bratt, with his two assists, extended his point streak to five-games tonight.
That tie would only last for a minute following the Hughes goal, however. At 11:55 gone by in the third, Cirelli finally got his.
Ondrej Palat made a cross-ice pass to Brayden Point as Point broke into the Devils zone. Point waited patiently around a Devils defender, then passed into Gillies’ pads and Cirelli’s skates in front of the Devils net. Cirelli recovered it and put the puck in to give the Lightning the 3-2 lead.
Gillies was pulled with just over two minutes to go in regulation. The Devils would pressure, but not get through.
The Devils got a final reprieve when Tampa iced the puck with 6.7 seconds left in the game, placing a faceoff in the Tampa zone.
But it was to no avail and the Lightning held on for the 3-2 victory.
The Devils were outshot by Tampa 35-33. New Jersey won 42-percent of the game’s faceoffs, brought down a little bit by McLeod being out of the lineup. Nico Hischier led Devils centers with a 63-percent personal faceoff winning percentage.
The Bolts finished the game with six total penalty minutes while the Devils had just two. The Lightning had 35 hits to the Devils’ 25. Tampa also had 18 blocked shots to the Devils’ six. Team giveaways saw the Lightning record four while the Devils had just two.
Nate Bastian recorded five shots to lead the Devils in that category. Hits were led by Jimmy Vesey with four. Blocks were led by Dawson Mercer with two. No individual Devil recorded a giveaway in the game while Andreas Johnsson, Mercer, Jesper Boqvist, Ryan Graves and PK Subban all led in takeaways with one each.
In terms of ice time, Severson was the big minutes-eater again with 27:10 logged (including 3:44 on the power play and 54 seconds shorthanded) while Hischier led the forwards in total time on ice with 21:28 logged (including 3:56 on the power play and 54 seconds on the PK).
Next up, the Devils will travel up to Raleigh, North Carolina to face the Hurricanes on Saturday. This will be a rematch of last Saturday’s matchup against the Canes.
It will be another tough test for the Devils when the puck drops at 7 PM Saturday on MSG+.
We will have coverage for you right here following the game then and until then, I hope everyone has a great end to their week!