Round One, Game Five: Devils Eliminated From Playoffs With 3-1 Loss

Cory Schneider was the Devils’ best penalty killer in game five. And the Devils were on the PK a lot in the second period. Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo

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!

Round One, Game Four: Lightning Win 3-1, Devils Lose Vatanen

Kyle Palmieri had the Devils’ lone goal in a 3-1 loss at The Rock. The Devils are now down 3-1 in the series to Tampa Bay. Photo: Elsa/Getty Images

Nobody said this playoff thing would be easy.

The Devils lost 3-1 at Prudential Center in game four of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. This puts them down in the series 3-1 as well, heading into game five in Tampa.

More importantly, they lost their best defenseman, Sami Vatanen, to injury. He was hit with an elbow to the head during a hit by the Bolts’ Nikita Kucherov and immediately left down the tunnel. There was no penalty call on the play. Officially, it was listed as an upper body injury and he did not return. There is a possibility that he could miss game five, putting the Devils in a rough situation. The physical play spilled over from game three and it has taken a toll on both teams.

Another factor for the Devils was special teams. They went 1-for-6, scoring their lone goal with the man advantage with six total shots. And while the power play improved, so did the Devils’ penalty kill. The Devils had been killing penalties at a 44-percent clip, good for last of all the teams in the postseason. Tonight, however, the Devils went 0-for-5 keeping the high-powered Lightning PP to eight shots on net. It was a great improvement and helped keep the game close.

New Jersey went with the same lineup from game three. Scratched were 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. One of the d-men, likely Mueller, should slot in on Saturday should Vatanen not be able to return.

Tampa was playing again without Ryan Callahan (upper body) and Tyler Johnson was a game time decision with an undisclosed injury. He would play.

In goal, Cory Schneider went for the Devils, stopping 34 of 36 shots (Tampa added an empty netter late in the game) and playing extremely well. However, he was being opposed by a 2018 Vezina Trophy finalist and it showed. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 27 of 28 Devils shots in the game and was, at times, the best player on the ice for Tampa (which is saying something considering their star power). At times, the Devils could not even get shots through to him, Tampa was clogging the shooting lanes that well.

Officiating the game were referees Wes McCauley and Tim Peel. This was significant, according to MSG’s Steve Cangialosi, because McCauley was named the best ref in the NHL by the players and Peel is known for calling a lot of penalties. The league obviously wanted to keep things under control after game three saw 100 minutes of misconduct penalties assessed when the dust settled on that one. They showed that they were not fooling around when Taylor Hall was nabbed for a hooking call just 34 seconds into the game.

Some interesting facts to get to before we delve more into game four. Game three was Cory Schneider’s first playoff win since April 18, 2012 when he was with Vancouver. That was over the Los Angeles Kings – the eventual Stanley Cup champs who beat the Devils to take home the hardware. Also, I read somewhere that game three’s win ensured that the Devils are the oldest NHL club to have never been swept in a playoff series (44 and counting). Nashville has not been swept in 17 tries (and counting) and Vegas in one (a record that they could be adding a lot to in the coming weeks). Also, Devils fans booed Victor Hedman every time he touched the puck in game four, reacting to his cheap stick work on Nico Hischier in game three.

Also, the Devils had a special fan in attendance. Patrick Warburton, Puddy himself, was at Prudential Center to help rally the fans. He was in full facepaint and waving a rally towel. He also took off his jersey to reveal a “D” painted on his chest. It was a reference to the classic Seinfeld episode and it got the fans ready to go.

Things would ramp up even more in the first period when Alex Killorn went off for hooking at the 7:47 mark. The Devils were on their first power play of the game, but were about to go up 5-on-3 when Cedric Paquette was called for tripping Hall as Hall entered the Tampa zone on a rush.

The Devils would convert on this one when Kyle Palmieri scored his first playoff goal as a Devil at 8:23 from Will Butcher and Hall. Travis Zajac won a faceoff in the Lightning zone to Palmieri along the far boards. After retrieving it in the corner, he passed to Butcher at the point. Butcher went to Hall down at the top of the near faceoff circle. He passed back to Butcher at the point. Butcher saw Palmieri set up at the far faceoff dot. He saucered one to him and Palmieri let rip a one-timer that beat Vasilevskiy cleanly to give the Devils the early 1-0 lead.

But that was it for the New Jersey scoring on the night. But they were not without chances. First Zajac was stopped on a breakaway just moments after the goal still on the power play. Blake Coleman would be stopped on a breakaway a few minutes after the Zajac one.

Tampa tied things up at 11:30 when JT Miller scored from Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. Moments after that, with 7:43 remaining in the first, the Lightning had seemingly taken the lead when Cory Conacher scored.

But Devils coach John Hynes issued a coach’s challenge asserting that Tampa was offside on the play. The replay was conclusive that he was correct and the goal was called back. The game remained tied at one.

The Lightning would take the lead for real and permanently at the 15:02 mark of the first when Kucherov whacked at a rebound, scoring on a second chance from Baydon Coburn and Miller. That made it 2-1 Lightning and that is basically where it would stay for the rest of the game.

Tampa would begin both the second and third periods on the power play, but as noted, the Devils would kill them off.

Andy Greene would be called for tripping at the 12:52 mark of the third which would set up a crucial PK late in the game. Palmieri would come through on that one, blocking a shot and clearing the puck while visibly hurting. He would be okay, but the effort showed that the Devils were really engaged in this one.

They would pull Cory with about 1:15 left in the contest in a bid to get things tied up, but it was to no avail. Kucherov iced the game with his second of the night, an empty netter from Miller at 18:52. That made it 3-1 in the game and gave the Lightning the 3-1 series lead.

With Vatanen – a d-man who plays in all situations and accrues the most ice time on the team – out, Butcher actually led the team in TOI with 21:52. Down a man, the time was more spread out on the defense corps. Of Butcher’s time, 7:32 of it was on the power play. Damon Severson led the team in shots on goal by a wide margin with eight. Hits were led by Brian Boyle, Drew Stafford and Marcus Johansson with four each. Ben Lovejoy led in blocked shots with four and Greene had three takeaways to lead in that category.

Team-wise, Tampa led in shots 37-28. The Devils won 59-percent of the faceoffs and led in hits 25-19. Blocks were even at ten for each team.

Next up, the Devils head fown ot Florida for a do-or-die game five. The Devils will be hosting a viewing party for the game at Prudential Center. Tickets are $5 each and will benefit the survivors and family of the Humboldt Broncos tradedy in Saskatchewan. I will be attending so my post on the game will be a little bit late. That game is at 3 PM on NBC as well.

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