Lightning Round: Devils’ First Round Playoff Opponent Set

The Devils are ready for their first playoff series since the 2012 Stanley Cup Final and their opponent is the first overall team in the Eastern Conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning get the Devils due to the Boston Bruins losing to the Florida Panthers on Sunday night, 4-2 at TD Garden. With that loss, Tampa won the Atlantic Division, ended up with the most points in the Eastern Conference and got the eighth seed, the Devils.

The Devils finished the season tied with Columbus in points and ROWs (regulation and overtime wins) but got knocked down to the eighth seed due to losing the head-to-head season series with the Blue Jackets.

Certainly this is a better matchup for the Devils than either the Washington Capitals or, definitely, the Boston Bruins. The worst possible situation would have probably been Columbus, but the Devils could not get them in the first round no matter what.

But make no mistake, the Lightning are not the easier matchup. This is the playoffs and the Devils are up against the best in the conference. This will be no cakewalk. But I think that goes for both teams.

The Devils, of course, swept the season series with the powerful Lightning, beating them 5-4 in a shootout on October 17 in Newark, 4-3 on February 17 (the Eddie Lack game) at Tampa and 2-1 at Prudential Center on March 24. These were all tight, one goal games, which are very playoff-like. Could this be a sign of things to come?

While the Lightning are playoff veterans (many of their players have either had deep playoff runs there or in other places), the Devils are largely new to this. The rookies like Nico Hischier, Will Butcher and Miles Wood and young guys like Pavel Zacha are making their first trip to the playoffs, of course, but so are some veterans like Taylor Hall and Keith Kinkaid. So that should be something to watch: experience versus a team that was not expected to do anything and is playing with house money so to speak.

And speaking to that, Tampa will have all of the pressure on them, seeing as how they are the top team in the East and the Atlantic Division champs. They are the one who fans feel are the team that should be winning the Stanley Cup, not the Devils.

But the Devils are not just happy to be here. They want to do some damage now that they are in. It should be a great series. Both teams are similar in style, playing a fast, up-tempo puck possession game. They are not heavy, physical teams and can score in bunches at times. The guys on the Devils Insiders podcast put things best on their recent episode previewing the playoffs when they said that for both teams, sometimes their best defense is their offense.

We will see how things shake down and just what the Devils can do.

As for TV, all games in the first round will be broadcast on MSG+ with the exception of game two which is on NBC on Saturday, April 14. Nationally, game one will be on NHL Network in the US and Sportsnet and TVAS2 in Canada. Game two will be on NBC and CNBC in he US and SN360 and TVAS2 in Canada. Game three will be on CNBC in the US and Sportsnet and TVAS2 in Canada. Game four will be on Golf Network (US) and Sportsnet and TVAS2 (Canada). Game five on will be decided as necessary.

No matter what, it is fun to be back in and here’s hoping the Devils can move on. Tampa is a top team in the NHL, there is no denying that. A deep team up and down their lineup. Hopefully the Devils can overcome and weather the storm and move on. They are the decided underdogs here and I do not think they would want it any other way.

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