Another Stanley Cup contender, another Devils win, another day at the office. The Devils, who have seemingly continued to play up to elite competition this season did it again, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning at Prudential Center last night, 2-1.
The win helped the Devils gain some ground on Philly, who play tomorrow against the Penguins. They are only two points behind the number one wild card team in the East. Florida did win to keep pace, beating Arizona 4-2, and do have games in hand, but the Devils can only worry about themselves and that is what they are doing.
The Devils’ lineup got a bit of a shakeup, as Ben Lovejoy sat in favor of Mirco Mueller on D while Jimmy Hayes and Drew Stafford were the other scratches. Stefan Noesen drew back in up front and Miles Wood remains out with an upper body injury.
The Devils also went back to the red-hot Keith Kinkaid in net. He stopped 35 of 36 shots against, playing out of his mind at times. There is no doubting that Kinkaid is in a zone right now and the Devils will ride him as long as they can. Kinkaid would be named the game’s number one star at the end of the night. Andrei Vasilevskiy went for Tampa and made 29 saves on 31 Devils shots.
Nico Hischier kicked off the scoring in the game, getting the Devils on the board first. Nico notched his 18th of the season and second in as many nights when he scored at 17:51 from Will Butcher and Mueller. The goal came when Nico skated deep into the Lightning zone with the puck. He came out from behind the net and dished to Butcher at the far point. Butcher faked a shot and went D-to-D with Mueller. Mueller returned the pass after gaining some space and Butcher shot. Vasilevskiy knocked the shot down, but the rebound came right to Nico, who was able to shovel it in as he was falling down to make it 1-0 Devils.
The Devils had the early lead on the Eastern Conference’s best team and would keep it through the first intermission.
In the second period, Kyle Palmieri doubled the Devils’ lead with a goal at 10:59 from Pavel Zacha and Taylor Hall. This one developed when Zacha gave to Palmieri at the near half wall. Palmieri made a nice individual effort to get free in the high slot, fired and beat Vasilevskiy to the stick side to put the Devils up 2-0. That would prove to be the game winner.
The teams had played at 4-on-4 just prior to the Palmieri goal. That was a strange situation as Brian Gibbons of the Devils was called for hooking against Alex Killorn. On the ensuing faceoff in the Devils’ zone, the Lightning had a faceoff violation. JT Miller jumped into the circle and he was also called for a faceoff violation, leading to a delay of game penalty for Tampa. The Lightning power play was nullified before it even got a chance to start.
In the third period, Ondrej Palat scored at 4:22 on the power play to cut the Devils lead to 2-1. He got assists from Mikhail Sergachev and Brayden Point. The Devils’ Butcher had been taken off for tripping at 2:27.
After a frantic last few minutes where the Devils were just not able to put the puck into the Tampa net vacated by Vasilevskiy for the extra skater, the Devils won a few key faceoffs in their zone and got some timely goaltending by Kinkaid to come away with the 2-1 victory.
The Devils ended the night 0-for-1 on the power play with no shots on goal. The Lightning ended up 1-for-2 with three shots.
Statistically, the Devils won 42-percent of the game’s faceoffs, outhit Tampa, 27-16 and had ten more blocked shots with 18 to Tampa Bay’s eight. Individually, Sami Vatanen again led all New Jersey skaters in ice time with 25:48 (1:05 on the power play, 2:43 on the PK) while Hall led the forwards with 17:57 (inlcuding 1:05 on the power play). Stefan Noesen and Blake Coleman, the Plano,Texas boys, led in shots on goal with four apiece. Coleman also led in hits with five. Kyle Palmieri and Brian Gibbons led in blocks with three and Hall led in takeaways with two.
With this win, the Devils swept the season series against the powerful Bolts, going 3-0-0 against the Cup contenders this season.
Next up, the Devils remain home as they take on the Carolina Hurricanes at Prudential Center on Tuesday. Hopefully, the Devils can keep up the momentum they have built against legit contenders in taking on a team that is below them in the standings. We will see you Tuesday.
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