Gifted goal-scorer, Nikita Kucherov, and the rest of the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New Jersey Devils, 3-1 on Saturday afternoon to win their best-of-seven game series, 4-1, and advance to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Lightning goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, made 26 saves on 27 shots on goal for a .963 save percentage in the win and Devils netminder, Cory Schneider, stopped 35 out of 37 shots faced for a .946 SV% in the loss.
Both teams swapped plenty of chances in the first period, but only one goal was scored in the first 20 minutes of Game 5.
Anthony Cirelli worked the puck behind the net and mustered a pass to the point where Mikhail Sergachev was waiting to wind up. Sergachev (1) shot the puck through a maze of traffic in front of the net and beat Schneider high glove side. Cirelli (1) had the only assist on the goal at 8:07 of the first period and the Lightning led, 1-0.
Through one period, Tampa led on the scoreboard, 1-0, but trailed New Jersey in shots on goal, 11-10. The Bolts led in blocked shots (5-2), hits (11-9) and takeaways (3-2), while the Devils led in giveaways (5-2). Neither team had seen any action on the power play entering the first intermission.
New Jersey went on a string of taking penalties in the second period, as the Devils took the game’s first five penalties. First, Pavel Zacha was guilty of holding at 5:05 of the second period.
Tampa was not able to capitalize on their first power play of the afternoon and only had one shot on goal on that man advantage while they gave up three quality shorthanded scoring chances to New Jersey.
Five seconds after killing off their first penalty of the afternoon, the Devils were guilty of too many men on the ice. Taylor Hall served the bench minor from the penalty box as John Hynes was searching for a way to jumpstart his offense from yet another penalty kill in hopes of tying the game.
Not long after, Kyle Palmieri had to serve a penalty for tripping Cirelli and the Bolts went back on the power play for the third time in the afternoon. Tampa’s scoring chances on the power play increased, but still they couldn’t buy a goal as Schneider made save after save for New Jersey.
As the second period wrapped up, Devils captain, Andy Greene, delivered a cross check to Lightning defender, Victor Hedman. Greene was assessed a minor penalty and New Jersey would start the third period shorthanded.
After 40 minutes of play in Game 5, the Lightning led 1-0 on the scoreboard and were outshooting the Devils, 28-15. Tampa also led in blocked shots (7-5), hits (18-14), takeaways (4-3) and faceoff win percentage (54-46) after two periods. New Jersey had yet to see any time on the power play, while the Bolts were 0/4.
Tampa started the third period on the power play, but for the fifth time on Saturday afternoon, the Lightning could not score a power play goal.
Almost five minutes into the third period, the Devils eclipsed more than 10 minutes without a shot on goal between the second and third periods (excluding intermission, of course).
At 9:02 of the third, the Lightning were guilty of their first penalty of the game. Cirelli was sent to the box with a high-sticking minor penalty against Blake Coleman and New Jersey went on their first power play. They did not convert on the man advantage.
Instead, Kucherov and the Bolts went up 2-0 a little more than a minute after killing Cirelli’s penalty.
Anton Stralman worked the puck to Kucherov (5) who fired a shot through traffic and gave the Lightning their first two-goal lead of the day. Stralman (1) and Steven Stamkos (5) notched the assists on the goal at 12:27 of the third period.
With 3:32 remaining in regulation, Hynes pulled his goaltender for an extra skater.
About a half-a-minute later, it paid off.
Kyle Palmieri (2) received a pass from Will Butcher and fired a low shot that cleared traffic in front of the goal and beat Vasilevskiy’s five-hole to cut the Lightning’s lead in half. Butcher (3) and Hall (5) had the assists on the goal that made it 2-1 and the Devils were pressing for a comeback.
Having a net front presence played into all the goals on Saturday as both Vasilevskiy and Schneider were on top of their games— truly living up to the old standard of “if a goalie can see it, a goalie will save it”.
Schneider went back into the crease only to come out with about two minutes remaining in the game and then back in-and-out again around the final minute of regulation thanks to a couple of close faceoffs to New Jersey’s defensive zone.
Hall pick-pocketed Cirelli in the closing seconds of the game, but couldn’t generate a scoring opportunity for the Devils as Ryan Callahan came away with the puck through the neutral zone.
With time ticking down into the single digits left on the clock, Callahan (1) made sure he was within striking distance of the vacant net and scored an empty net goal with 1.7 seconds remaining on the game clock.
The goal was Callahan’s first of the postseason and put the Lightning back up by two. Ryan McDonagh (4) had the only assist.
At the final horn Tampa had secured the victory in Game 5 by a score of 3-1 and in the series, 4-1.
The Bolts finished the game outshooting the Devils, 38-27, and led in blocked shots (13-8), hits (28-22) and faceoff win percentage (60-40). New Jersey finished the afternoon 0/1 on the power play and Tampa went 0/5.
Kucherov’s 5-5—10 totals in this series set a franchise record for the Lightning, surpassing Tyler Johnson’s 4-5—9 totals in the 2015 Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers.
Tampa will face the winner of the Boston Bruins/Toronto Maple Leafs series in the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.