Playoff hockey is back, ladies and gentlemen! In the Devils’ first playoff game at The Rock since June 9, 2012 (game five of the Stanley Cup Final versus the Kings), they scraped and clawed back into the series with a 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Devils were back in New Jersey with a new look to their lineup. For one thing, Marcus Johansson was in, playing in his first game since the January 23 game at Boston when Brad Marchand cheap-shotted him as he was cutting to the net. That hit cost him the rest of the regular season and two playoff games, but number 90 was in the lineup tonight. He was playing in his first playoff game with the Devils, his first since he was with Washington last season. Johansson played on a line with Pavel Zacha and Patrick Maroon.
Joining him as changes to the lineup were Drew Stafford (playing on a line with Miles Wood and Brian Boyle), slotting back in up front as the Devils went back to 12 forwards and six defensemen, and Cory Schnedier. Cory was starting his first playoff game as a New Jersey Devil. We know all about the drought – he had not won a game since December 27, 2017 versus Detroit – and that this was his first playoff start since a May 7, 2013 loss to San Jose as a Vancouver Canuck.
But he played a fantastic game tonight. He would nearly have to leave the game just before the Devils took the lead later in the third period after he stretched his leg out to make a save and then had a Tampa player bump into his outstretched left leg. With his history of hip and groin injuries, the Prudential Center held its collective breath. But he would fight through the pain and continue on. He ended up making 34 saves on 36 Tampa shots.
Going for Tampa was Andrei Vasilevskiy again. He stopped 36 of 39 Devils shots. The Devils added two empty net goals and so finished the game with 41 total shots on goal.
The Devils had a crowded press box with newly-signed Joey Anderson, Christoph Bertschy, Jesper Bratt, Brian Gibbons, Michael Grabner, Jimmy Hayes, Michael Kapla, Eddie Lack, Nick Lappin, Michael McLeod, Mirco Mueller, Blake Pietila, Kevin Rooney, Steven Santini and Brian Strait all scratched. Binghamton did not qualify for the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs, for what it’s worth.
The game was tight through the first period, with no score going into the first intermission. What we did have was a penalty to the Devils’ Andy Greene that was called slashing officially, but what looked more like a cross check to Yanni Gourde at 19:44. In any case, the Lightning would have the majority of their power play time on fresh ice in the second period.
Their lethal power play wasted no time, scoring 42 seconds into the second frame when Alex Killorn was all alone in the slot, took a pass from Nikita Kucherov and scored his fourth of the series. Steven Stamkos had the secondary assist. The penalty kill continued to be a point of contention for the Devils, as Tampa was 2-for-5 with eight shots on goal on the man advantage. The Devils went 1-for-7 with 13 shots on net. In a game when the Devils knew they had to stay out of the penalty box, it was Tampa who still capitalized when they did get chances.
The Lightning had the 1-0 lead, but the Devils tied things up at the 12:24 mark of the second when who else, but Taylor Hall notched one unassisted. Hall skated the puck low to high and dished to Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri fired on net and the rebound came to Hall in the slot. He unleashed a shot and found the back of the net to tie things up at one. Initially, Boyle and Palmieri were given assists on the goal but the scoring was changed and it was called unassisted at 12:24.
Either way, it was great for Hall, who hit the crossbar on a partial breakaway late in the first period after beating Vasilevskiy cleanly. Bryce Salavdor of MSG joked that there was a dent in the crossbar due to how hard Hall had shot the puck there. Also, a Devils goal had been waved off midway through the second period when Blake Coleman’s shot crossed the goal line after the Tampa net came off of its moorings. Toronto reviewed the shorthanded chance, but the call on the ice stood: no goal.
Prudential Center errupted following Hall’s goal, but things were about to get a whole lot better.
But first, Tampa would take another lead. This came when Stamkos notched his first of the playoffs just 38 seconds into the third period from Kucherov and Killorn on the power play. Cory got a piece of the shot, but could not hold on to it. It was 2-1 Tampa.
Once again, the Devils had taken a penalty late in a period and paid for it early in the next. It was 2-1 Lightning, but things were about to turn up for the Devils.
It began with Will Butcher on the power play. It began at the 2:39 mark of the third when Tampa’s Cedric Paquette went off for tripping Butcher. Then, at 3:39, the Lightning took a bench minor for too many men on the ice. The Devils had about a minute or so of 5-on-3 power play time. And Butcher responded. At the 4:03 mark, he would score from Hall and Palmieri to tie things up at two.
Palmieri guided the puck back to Butcher at the point. Butcher gave to Hall at the near half wall. He gave back to Butcher, teeing him up to snipe one top shelf by Vasilevskiy. The game was now 2-2 as the Devils scored on the power play. They would not convert on the ensuing 5-on-4, but the damage was done.
And the Devils were not done. New Jersey took a 3-2 lead when Stefan Noesen scored his first of the playoffs at 12:55 from Hall and Greene. It started with Greene giving to Hall in the Devils’ zone following a delayed offside on Tampa Bay. Hall then weaved his way up ice and, once he broke into the Lightning zone, fed Noesen, who fired a one-timer by Vasilevskiy to give the Devils their first lead of the series.
Hall said during the post game that he knew Noesen had a great shot and was just looking to set him up.
Tampa would pull Vasilevskiy wtih about 1:20 left int the game and the Devils would pot two empty netters. The first came at 19:02 when Coleman scored shorthanded and unassisted to make it 4-2 (the Devils were in the middle of a huge kill and Tampa had a 6-on-4 advantage with the goaltender pulled). Ben Lovejoy then scored unassisted at 20 seconds later to make it 5-2, your final.
The game ended with Tampa on the power play as things got a bit chippy late. Tempers began to flare when Nico Hischier was speared by Victor Hedman in the groin and no call was made. This followed Coleman receiving a high hit from Mikhail Sergachev that was called. This was after the Noesen goal and the bad feelings contiued to the final whistle. In the end, Paquette (Tampa), Boyle (New Jersey), Chris Kunitz (Tampa), John Moore (New Jersey), Braydon Coburn (Tampa), Drew Stafford (New Jersey), Cory Conacher (Tampa), Damon Severson (New Jersey), Mikhail Sergachev (Tampa) and Miles Wood (New Jersey) were all assessed misconduct penalties at 19:37. The Devils’ Boyle also was called for holding, which is why the Lightning ended the game on the PP.
But that was enough. The Devils came away with the 5-2 victory and cut the series lead to 2-1 in favor of Tampa. For what it’s worth, the last time the Devils came back from a 2-0 series deficit was 1994 against the Boston Bruins in the second round.
In the end, Travis Zajac led all Devils skaters in ice time with 24:23 (7:48 of power play time and 5:02 on the PK). Sami Vatanen led all d-men in TOI with 22:42 total. Hall and Coleman tied in shots on goal with six, Coleman also led in hits with five. Zacha had two blocked shots to lead the Devils in that category and takeaways were led by Coleman with two. Coleman really imprinted himself on this game and made his mark.
Team-wise, the Devils out shot Tampa 41-36, won 55-percent of the game’s faceoffs, were out hit 34-33 and had one more blocked shot, 9-8. The three stars of the game were: Taylor Hall (first), Cory Schneider (second) and Stefan Noesen (third).
Next up, Wednesday and game four at The Rock. The Devils will look to pull even in that one and make this into a full-on series.
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