After two bad losses to their arch-rivals, the Devils headed south to play the final two games of their 2014-15 season. First stop in the Sunshine State was the Amalie Arena in Tampa for a matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are currently fighting for first place in the Atlantic Division with the Montreal Canadiens. With a win and a few other pieces falling right, Tampa (who have already clinched their playoff spot) could be in first place by the end of NHL action for the night.
The Devils, to their credit, played a good game. They hung in with a playoff team right to the end. Unfortunately, too many penalties again doomed them to a loss. For the second straight game, the Devils spent a lot of time in the penalty box – they took seven penalties in the second game versus the Rangers and eight tonight against the Lightning. Tampa would end up with three power play goals (one each from Nikita Nesterov, Steven Stamkos and the overtime winner to Tyler Johnson).
Although the story of the night was New Jersey taking bad penalties at bad times, it was actually the Lightning that got things off on the wrong foot, as Mark Barberio took a holding call at 5:03 and the red hot Steve Bernier scored for the Devils just three seconds into the power play with assists to Adam Henrique and Scott Gomez. Tampa tied things just 1:20 later on Johnson’s first goal of the night. And that was pretty much how it was all night.
At 9:13, Nesterov scored his goal to put the Bolts up 2-1. Coming out of the first intermission, Patrik Elias netted his 13th of the season 10:17 into the second. The game remained tied at two when Adam Larsson took a delay of game penalty at 17:27 and Stamkos scored on the ensuing power play. Sixteen seconds later, Bernier scored his second of the game and 16th of the season from Henrique and Gomez again. The Henrique-Gomez-Bernier line had a great night for the Devils and have had a good last couple of games, in fact (especially Bernier who has been a rare bright spot in this last stretch that has seen the Devils win one in the last ten games, including tonight). From that point on, the game stayed tied at three.
In the third, the Devils had to kill off a roughing penalty by Damon Severson. The call, as MSG+ color man Ken Daneyko pointed out, could have been a little bit borderline. However, players have to know that the superstars in the league, like Stamkos, are going to get the borderline calls for their teams no matter what. That has been the way it has been going back to the days of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. It is just the way it is. The Devils did kill off that penalty and seemed headed for overtime with no problems.
With just under twenty seconds left in regulation, Tyler Johnson moved into the Devils zone on what Mark Fraser thought was a breakaway. As Daneyko pointed out on the broadcast, fellow defenseman Severson was cutting back and would have been able to make a play on Johnson. However, Fraser did not know this and dove to take Johnson out. He drew a tripping call and the Devils would be down a man for the rest of regulation and into the first 1:40 or so of overtime.
The Devils continued their stellar penalty kill in the remaining time of regulation (played at 5-on-4). Going into overtime, however, the man advantage would change to a 4-on-3 with a lot of open ice.
The Devils tried valiantly and were able to kill off most of the penalty. Then, with about 20 seconds left in the PK, Johnson threw the puck towards the net. Seth Helgeson, making his return to the big club on this night (along with fellow Albany call-up, defenseman Raman Hrabarenka, who made his NHL debut), went down to one knee to block the pass, which would have hit an open Tampa Bay player on the side of the net. The puck caromed off of his leg, behind goaltender Keith Kinkaid and into the net. The Devils had lost a tough one.
For the Devils, it was their ninth loss in the last ten games. However, they did get a point out of the night. Steve Bernier was named the game’s second star by member of the attending media. He finished with two goals on four shots, three hits, a plus-1 rating all in 11:43 of ice time.
New Jersey has had a rough stretch over the last month of games, but if you take too many penalties, things are eventually going to catch up with you. The team is starting to integrate some of their younger players, giving them some ice time as they wrap up the year. The team has played with a great fighting spirit and can hopefully get a “W” in their final game of the year coming up against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise.