The New Jersey Devils were to face the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second time in less than a week at Prudential Center in their second-to-last game of a bittersweet season. They would need a win over Tampa to avoid being swept by the Bolts in the season series. They would not get it, falling 4-2 despite two goals from Sergey Kalinin, a great effort from the big Russian, but not enough to avoid the Devils losing their fourth straight game.
Big news from the Lightning camp was that Jonathan Drouin would be playing. He had not played in the NHL since mid-December. Since then he had demanded a trade, refused to report to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, been suspended, was not traded at the trade deadline, did report to Syracuse and was being called up for the first time tonight due to Tampa’s injury problems. Problems which include superstar Steven Stamkos going through surgery to remove blood clots near his collarbone. He will miss one to three months with that injury – likely the first round of the playoffs for the Bolts.
Speaking of the first round of the playoffs, Tampa Bay could clinch home ice in the first round with a win over New Jersey tonight. The Florida Panthers have already clinched the Atlantic Division, so the Devils did not get to play spoiler there, but they could delay Tampa’s home ice-in-the-first round mission.
For the Devils, Joseph Blandisi was back in the lineup, while Blake Pietila was out.
In goal, Keith Kinkaid got the nod for the Devils. Cory Schneider will likely start in the season finale on Saturday against Toronto, the team just wanted to give him a little breather and pace him since his return from injury. Kinkaid made 18 saves on 21 shots faced in what was a very good season for the second-year NHL goaltender making what will probably be his last start of the season.
For the Lightning, big Ben Bishop made 20 saves on 22 Devils shots faced. He will gear up for the playoffs and the defense of the Bolts’ Eastern Conference championship.
Things got off to a quick start in the game when Tampa’s Andrej Sustr was called for hooking Patrik Elias. Elias was able to draw on his veteran smarts to draw the penalty, as he felt the hook from behind and was able to “sell” it to the referees without it seeming like embellishment.
Nothing would come of the ensuing power play. In fact, the Devils went 0-for-2 with the man advantage. Tampa Bay was 0-for-3 with the extra man on the night.
Tampa would break through first in the scoring department. At 5:45 of the first period, Erik Condra tipped in a shot by Sustr to put the Lightning up 1-0. The secondary assist went to former-Ranger Brian Boyle. Tampa had actually been on the power play after the Devils were called for too many men on the ice, although the goal came at even strength after penalty time had just expired. The Lightning hit the post on the initial shot and stayed with the puck in the goal mouth scramble. With Kinkaid down, the puck went in and the Lightning had the lead.
Late in the first, Bobby Farnham and Mike Blunden fought after Blunden had been roughing up the much-smaller Blandisi. Farnham jumped in and protected his teammate, leading to a unique situation. Both teams ended up playing 5-on-5 hockey when Blunden received two minutes for roughing and five for fighting, Blandisi got two for roughing and Farnham got the fighting major.
Farnham would almost tie the game up for the Devils when he was stopped on a breakaway early in the second period. He tried going five hold on Bishop, but was turned aside. This would go on to be a huge save later.
The Devils did tie things up when Sergey Kalinin scored his first of the two at 7:16. Stephen Gionta won the offensive zone draw back to John Moore. Moore fired a shot that was tipped in by Kalinin in front of the net. The game was tied up at one.
But it was not to be for long. At 14:45, Cedric Paquette scored from Valtteri Filppula and Matthew Carle to give Tampa back the lead, 2-1. And that is how it would be going into the second intermission.
When the teams came back out on the ice for the third, the Devils were looking to get back into things. However, the Lightning would strike again when Drouin, in his first game back in the NHL after all of his drama, scored at 3:50 with an assist to Vladislav Namestnikov. It was now 3-1 Tampa.
Things looked really bad for the Devils, but it was Sergey Kalinin who came back to the rescue. His second of the game and eighth of the year came at 9:26 of the third when Bobby Farnham went in hard on the forecheck and forced Bishop to turn the puck over while playing it in the trapezoid behind his net. Kalinin jumped on the loose puck, jamming it in on Bishop’s short side and making it 3-2, Tampa. Stephen Gionta had the secondary assist on the goal. It was Kalinin’s first career two goal game and Farnham’s first assist since Halloween afternoon against the Islanders.
The Devils would try to get things tied up when they attempted to pull Kinkaid with just over a minute left in the game. However, before he left the crease, Kinkaid needed to make one more big stop on a Lightning partial breakaway.
But it was for nothing, as the Bolts’ Filppula added an empty net goal to put them up 4-2. The assists went to Nikita Kucherov and Carle. Your final score was 4-2, Lightning.
Sergey Kalinin would be named the game’s first star due in part to his two goals (he also had three shots on net, two hits and a plus-1 in 11:18 on the ice) while Stephen Gionta was named the third star (two assists, two shots on goal, one hit, plus-2 in 13:01 of ice time).
Coming up, the Devils face their final game of the 2015-16 season as Lou Lamoriello’s Toronto Maple Leafs come into town on Saturday. Hopefully, the Devils can win the game and stop their losing streak, going into the summer on a positive note. But it will be tough, as Toronto is a “tough out” with their young lineup. Despite there being nothing on the line, it should be a good game between two hungry young clubs.