The New Jersey Devils capped off what was a great season on a bit of a down note, being eliminated from the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 3-1 loss in game five to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena.
The loss came with a side of the strange as the Devils spent nearly the entirity of the second period on the penalty kill. Yet despite that and 13 power play shots on goal, the Devils shut the Tampa power play down, keeping them 0-for-5.
I was at the Prudential Center viewing party that the Devils put on. It was fun, as these events usually are. A ticket cost $5 with proceeds going to the Humboldt Broncos following the tragic bus crash that the Saskatchewan junior team was involved in earlier this month.
The Devils made a few changes to their lineup. Out were Drew Stafford and Stefan Noesen up front. Back in were Brian Gibbons and Jesper Bratt (making his Stanley Cup Playoff debut). With Sami Vatanen missing on the blue line due to the high hit he received in game four (a play that not only did not draw a penalty, but failed to draw any supplemental discipline from the NHL), Mirco Mueller slotted back in on defense.
In goal, the Devils went back to Cory Schneider. Simply put, he was phenomenal tonight. He kept the Devils in the game and was their best penalty killer during the second period. He made 35 saves on 37 shots against. The Lightning finished with 38 shots for as they added an empty netter later in the game.
Andrei Vasilevskiy went for the Lightning and saw considerably less work. He stopped 26 of 27 shots against. Considering the Devils spent the majority of the game a man down, 27 shots is not a bad total. When given the chance, the Devils offense looked good. The problem was they were not finishing against Vasilevskiy, as he stood tall like he did most of the series for Tampa.
Mikhail Sergachev got the scoring going at the 8:07 mark of the first. Anthony Cirelli had the lone assist on what was the only scoring for about a period and a half, if not two full periods.
The second period was when the Devils’ mettle was really tested. It began 5:05 in when Pavel Zacha was given a holding call. The Devils killed that off and at 7:10 received a bench minor for too many men on the ice. They killed that off and at 11:12, Kyle Palmieri was called for tripping. They killed that off and at 13:26 Damon Severson was assessed a holding penalty. They killed that off and just as the period was ending, at the 20:00 mark, Andy Greene took a cross checking penalty.
Now, if you will indulge me for a second. WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?! If you are going to call a game tight, I understand that. But call it both ways! You cannot tell me that with all of the ticky-tack calls that were going against the Devils, the Lightning were completely innocent. Not with what we saw in games three and four. I know it’s not cool to get on the officiating because there is nothing you can do, you have to play your game, blah blah blah. I saw at least two or three interference calls not made against Tampa. The only one you cannot argue is the too many men call. That is cut-and-dry. The rest? Let’s just say there was a lot of “discretion” used. And with that, I will get off of my soap box.
There really was no harm as the Devils killed off all five penalties in a row, but it put them a distinct disadvantage because they were busy on the PK when they should have been focusing on tying the game. The Devils finally got their chance on the power play when Cirelli was nabbed for high sticking Blake Coleman 9:02 into the third. The Devils had three shots on that power play as they went 0-for-1. They also had a shorthanded shot on goal, for what it’s worth.
Nikita Kucherov made it 2-0 at the 12:27 mark of the third from Anton Stralman and Steven Stamkos. The Devils seemed in a deeper hole until they pulled Schneider with about 3:30 left in the game.
It was then that New Jersey got on the board to cut the Lightning lead to 2-1. Patrick Maroon tipped a Kyle Palmieri shot by Vasilevskiy. Will Butcher had the secondary assist on the final Devils goal of the 2017-18 season.
The Devils had, against all odds, made it a game. They pulled Schneider again, but Ryan Callahan, returning to the lineup for Tampa, iced it with two seconds remaining. His empty net goal was assisted by Ryan McDonagh.
Statistically, the Devils were outshot 38-27, won 40-percent of the game’s faceoffs and were out hit, 28-22. Tampa had 13 blocked shots to the Devils’ eight.
Individually, Greene led the team in time on ice with 23:29 (with a whopping 6:23 on the PK), Bratt had the most shots with four, hits were led by Greene with four, blocked shots were led by Taylor Hall and Greene with two apiece and Hall, Pavel Zacha, Gibbons, John Moore and Mueller each led in takeaways with one each.
So now the Lightning go on to face the winners of the Toronto-Boston series while the Devils go home. The Devils go home, though, with nothing to be ashamed of. They played a complete season, never dropping out of a playoff spot all year, and overcame so much to make the playoffs for the first time in six years. Every Devils fan should be proud of this team and excited for what is to come. A few more roster tweaks, a call here or there, and this team will be Stanley Cup contenders in no time.
We’ll see you here all summer and into next season. Please feel free to follow us on Twitter @LGDevilsNet, sign up for email alerts to see when new posts are added, email us at LetsGoDevilsNet@gmail.com or simply leave a comment below this post.
Congratulations to the New Jersey Devils on a great 2017-18 season and here’s to the future!