Things like this happen. When you are going up against a team with as potent a power play as the Tampa Bay Lightning have, games like this are bound to appear.
The Devils fell to the Lightning 5-3 at Amalie Arena in game two of their best-of-seven first round Stanley Cup Playoff series today.
Things started out well enough with the game tied at one going into the first intermission. But the wheels began to fall off for New Jersey in the second period before a late surge in the third nearly resulted in a dramatic comeback.
They would not complete that comeback, but would help set the tone for game three by being more physical and hard on the puck. The Devils showed up in the third period.
Roster-wise, Brian Gibbons was out along with Jesper Bratt, Jimmy Hayes, Marcus Johansson and Drew Stafford up front as the Devils went with 11 forwards. Damon Severson slotted back in on the blue line as they went with seven defensemen. Steven Santini (a d-man) and Eddie Lack (goaltender) were the two other healthy scratches.
The Devils went right back to Keith Kinkaid between the pipes. He was solid early on and only faltered in that disastrous second period. He faced 15 shots and stopped ten of them. He would be pulled after Tampa’s fifth goal in favor of Cory Schneider, seeing his first playoff action in a New Jersey uniform. He stopped all ten shots he saw.
For the Lightning, one of their big stories was Andrei Vasilevskiy, who stopped 41 of a whopping 44 Devils shots. The Devils bombarded him, especially late in the game. They outshot Tampa 10-6 in the first period, 15-11 in the second and 19-9 in the third. He saw a lot of rubber but stood tall for the Bolts and was part of the Devils’ problem on the afternoon.
There was a slight delay about 45 seconds into the game when a bolt broke on one of the Lightning bench gates. That needed to be fixed before we could get things going proper. It was quickly repaired by the ice crew and we were off and running.
Brayden Point scored his first of the playoffs just 12:15 into the game to make it 1-0 from Ondrej Palat and Ryan McDonagh. Point was the recipient of a good bounce as the puck landed right on his stick through the Devils’ zone and he roofed it over Kinkaid. Tampa was an NHL-best 36-6-1 when scoring first in a game. This did not bode well for the Devils.
But the Devils had a quick answer. That answer was Nico Hischier. Nico scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal unassisted just 1:23 after the first Tampa Bay goal. Nico won an offensive zone faceoff to Michael Grabner. Grabner gave to Mirco Mueller at the near point. He went point-to-point with Severson, who fired on net. Vasilevskiy made the initial save, but the rebound came to Hischier in the slot. He fired, beating the Tampa goaltender over his trapper. That made it 1-1 as we headed into the second period. Things seemed to be working out alright for the Devils.
Then things fell apart.
It began, appropriately enough, on the power play. Ben Lovejoy tried to clear a puck that was on edge and ended up shooting it out over the glass, being hit with a delay of game infraction. From there, the Tampa power play took over. Alex Killorn potted his second of the series at 3:14 of the second. Steven Stamkos had missed the net on a shot and it came right to Nikita Kucherov, whose shot was redirected in by Killorn to make it 2-1 Lightning.
That opened the floodgates. Tyler Johnson scored at 4:36 from McDonagh and Point as he too tipped McDonagh’s shot by Kinkaid. That made it 3-1.
At 6:01, Kucherov struck unassisted to make it 4-1. This one went in off of Sami Vatanen’s skate and stick on a play that Tampa did not even get credit for a shot on goal for.
Killorn finished the onslaught on the power play again (this was set up by a somewhat suspect unsportsmanlike conduct call on Kyle Palmieri). He scored off of a scramble in front where Kinkaid lost his stick. That came at 13:12 with assists to Kucherov and Victor Hedman. it was now 5-1 Lightning.
Following this goal was when Cory Schneider came on in relief for Kinkaid. He would be perfect on his end of the evening.
The power play saw Tampa go 2-for-3 with four shots on goal. The Devils, in contrast, were 0-for-3 with six shots.
The Devils would get one back late in the second, with less than 30 seconds left in the frame when Vatanen scored from Andy Greene and Cory Schneider. On the play, Vatanen took a pass in the Devils’ defensive zone from Greene and skated the length of the rink. He snapped a shot off from the top of the slot and beat Vasilevskiy stick side cleanly to make the score 5-2.
Earlier in the play, Vatanen had hit Tampa forward Ryan Callahan. Callahan left the ice injured and would not return. A blow for the Lightning and we will see how it plays out later in the series.
The third period was just a little bit different from the other two periods. Namely, the Devils dominated puck possession and zone time. Cory made a big save early in the period as he slid across his crease and knocked a shot down with his glove.
The Devils had chances, such as when Miles Wood had the puck knocked off of his stick on a partial breakaway midway through the period.
They would break through at the 11:57 mark when Blake Coleman scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal from Travis Zajac and John Moore to make it 5-3. After sustained zone pressure, Zajac played catch with Moore at the point. Zajac teed up Coleman – who was stationed in the high slot – and he fired a one-timer past Vasilevskiy to make it 5-3.
From there, Nico hit the post with a shot and then, in a separate play, Miles Wood had seemingly made it 5-4. The puck got caught up in Vasilevskiy’s pants and no conclusive video proof was evident for the situation room in Toronto to call it a definitive goal. It was blow to the Devils and they would not recover. They would pull Schneider with about two minutes remaining in the game but would not get any closer. Tampa came out of their home arena with a 2-0 series lead.
Statistically, the Devils outshot Tampa 44-26, won just 34-percent of the game’s faceoffs, outhit the Lightning narrowly 36-35 in what was an extremely physical game and had 11 blocked shots to Tampa’s ten.
Individually, Vatanen led the Devils in ice time with 20:55 (1:04 on the PP and 23 seconds on the PK) narrowly beating out Taylor Hall, who had 20:43 of time on ice. Hall led in shots on goal with six, Patrick Maroon led in hits with five, Moore led in blocks with three and Lovejoy had two takeaways, which led in that category.
Next up, Monday and game three up north at Prudential Center. Hopefully, the Devils can use the tone that they set in the third period of this game to pull out a win in one or both of the games at The Rock. We will have you covered here, as always.
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