Tag Archives: Mikhail Sergachev

DTFR Podcast #163- Cap’n Crunch

The salary cap isn’t going up as much as everyone hoped. Also, there were plenty of trades, buyouts and extensions handed out in the last week. Nick, Colby, Cap’n and Pete examine each move and pick 2019 NHL Awards winners.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Lightning strike three times in the third, beat B’s, 5-4

A three-goal third period comeback punctuated the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 win over the Boston Bruins on Monday night at Amalie Arena after Tampa originally allowed three goals against in the second period.

Steven Stamkos had a pair of goals and Anthony Cirelli had the game-winning goal in the final minute of regulation, while Andrei Vasilevskiy (37-9-4 record, 2.36 goals against average, .927 save percentage in 50 games played) stopped 13 out of 17 shots faced (.765 SV%) in the win for the Lightning.

Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask (26-11-5, 2.42 GAA, .915 SV% in 43 GP) made 23 saves on 28 shots against (.821 SV%) in the loss.

Boston fell to 46-21-9 (101 points) on the season, but remained in command of 2nd place in the Atlantic Division. Meanwhile, Tampa improved to 59-14-4 (122 points) on the season and in command of the entire league, having already clinched the President’s Trophy this season.

The B’s fell to 28-2-3 when leading after two periods, 8-4-0 in the month of March and 18-14-6 on the road this season as a result of the loss– just their seventh in regulation since Jan. 1st.

Kevan Miller (upper body), Marcus Johansson (lung contusion), Matt Grzelcyk (upper body), Torey Krug (concussion) and Sean Kuraly (fractured right hand) all remained out of the lineup, despite Johansson being a game-time decision.

As a result, Karson Kuhlman remained on the second line right wing alongside Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci since his emergency recall from the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Saturday.

Bruce Cassidy left the rest of his lineup the same as in Saturday night’s matchup against the Florida Panthers.

Stamkos (40) tipped momentum in favor of the Lightning after blasting one of his patented one-timers past Rask at 6:42 of the first period to give Tampa the lead, 1-0.

Ryan Callahan (10) and Mikhail Sergachev (21) tallied the assists on the goal.

Less than a minute later, Tampa’s leading scorer, Nikita Kucherov hooked David Pastrnak and was assessed a minor penalty at 7:28.

While on the power play, the Bruins tied the game with a power play goal from Brad Marchand (33) while Vasilevksiy dove in desperation thanks, in part, to a blind pass through traffic from Pastrnak to Marchand for the one-timer after Pastrnak received the puck from Patrice Bergeron.

Pastrnak (38) and Bergeron (43) had the assists on Marchand’s goal at 8:32 of the first period and the B’s tied the game, 1-1.

With his assist on the goal, Bergeron established a new career-high in points in a season with 74 points in 60 personal games played this season– surpassing his previous career-high of 73 points in 81 games in 2005-06.

Bergeron’s new career-high in points, of course, comes at the youthful age of 33-years-old.

Late in the opening frame, Stamkos (41) added his second goal of the game on a nearly identical one-timer from his usual spot on the ice to give Tampa the lead, 2-1.

Victor Hedman (42) and Sergachev (22) notched the assists on Stamkos’ second goal at 14:58 of the first period.

Shortly thereafter, Bruins defender, John Moore was crumpled by Adam Erne on a hit that left Moore favoring his left arm as he went down the tunnel to the visiting dressing room.

He did not return to Monday night’s action and was ruled out by the Bruins communication staff early in the second period.

J.T. Miller hooked Danton Heinen at 17:45 and Alex Killorn tripped Bergeron at 18:32, leaving Boston with an abbreviated 5-on-3 skater advantage for about 1:14 until a regular power play would resume.

The B’s did not convert on either power play opportunity.

Through one period, Tampa led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 9-4. The Bolts also led in blocked shots (5-4), takeaways (4-2) and hits (15-10), while the B’s managed an advantage in giveaways (2-1) and face-off win percentage (55-46).

The Lightning did not see any time on the power play entering the first intermission, while the Bruins were 1/3 on the skater advantage.

Kuhlman received a two-minute minor infraction for holding Sergachev at 5:05 of the second period, sending the Lightning on their first power play of the night.

Tampa did not convert on the ensuing opportunity.

Moments later, Charlie Coyle (12) tied the game, 2-2, after David Backes stole the puck in the offensive and fed Coyle with the puck on his stick.

Coyle deked and scored on the backhand at 8:42 of the second period with Backes (13) yielding the only assist on the goal.

Boston began to unwind over the course of the second and third period in discipline as Zdeno Chara hooked Kucherov at 9:46 of the middle frame, but the Bolts were powerless on the power play.

Brandon Carlo (2) sniped a shot past Vasilevksiy’s glove side for his first goal in 44 games at 13:41 of the second period.

Krejci (46) and DeBrusk (13) were credited with the assists as the Bruins led for the first time of the night, 3-2.

About a minute later, Marchand (34) rocketed a one-timer wide of the goal that caromed off the glass and bounced off of Vasilevskiy’s skate and trickled into the net.

Pastrnak (39) and Bergeron (44) had the assists on Marchand’s second goal of the night and the Bruins had scored three unanswered goals to lead, 4-2, at 14:32 of the second period.

After 40 minutes of play, Boston led on the scoreboard, 4-2, but trailed Tampa in shots on goal, 19-12.

The Lightning also led in blocked shots (9-6), takeaways (6-5), hits (24-15) and face-off win% (51-49), while the B’s led in giveaways (3-2).

Tampa was 0/2 on the power play, while the Bruins were 1/3 on the skater advantage heading into the third period.

The Lightning thundered their way back into the game with three unanswered goals of their own in the third period to overcome a two-goal deficit and beat the Bruins.

Hedman (12) kicked things off with a goal at 5:36 of the third period to bring Tampa within one, 4-3, after he followed through on Stamkos’ shot that went wide and redirected off the end boards behind the net.

Stamkos (51) and Miller (31) had the assists on Hedman’s goal and the Bolts set the tone for the final frame of regulation.

The comeback was imminent.

Pastrnak caught Ryan McDonagh with a high-stick and was assessed a four-minute double minor penalty at 6:45.

Boston successfully managed to go unscathed during their extended penalty kill, but couldn’t muster anything past Vasilevskiy.

Midway through the third period, Kucherov (38) pounced on an odd-skater advantage that fell flat for the Bruins and wristed a shot past Rask after Stamkos led the charge the other way.

Stamkos (52) had the only assist on Kucherov’s goal at 13:50 and the game was tied, 4-4.

Charlie McAvoy hooked Brayden Point at 17:02 and presented the Lightning with yet another power play.

Though the B’s managed to kill the penalty off, they were trapped in the vulnerable minute thereafter and failed to clear the puck out of their own zone.

Instead, Tampa kept the pressure on Boston and forced the puck to Cirelli (18) in the high-slot for the goal that gave the Bolts the lead, 5-4, at 19:07 of the third period.

Mathieu Joseph (12) and McDonagh (33) had the assists on the game-winning goal with 52.2 seconds left in regulation.

Cassidy used his timeout after Cirelli’s goal to try to draw up a plan, but his efforts were thwarted after Marchand picked up an interference penalty at 19:22.

For the first time since Jan. 14th in Philadelphia against the Flyers, the Bruins had blown a two-goal lead to lose in regulation.

At the final horn, Tampa had won, 5-4, and finished the night leading in shots on goal (28-17), blocked shots (11-10), hits (33-22) and face-off win% (54-46).

The B’s led in giveaways (5-4) and went 1/3 on the power play, while the Lightning finished Monday night 0/6 on the skater advantage.

The Bruins return home– after going 3-1-0 on their four-game road trip– to face the New York Rangers on March 27th, then host the Florida Panthers on March 30th before traveling to Detroit on the 31st to close out the month.

Boston finishes the season swinging through Columbus on April 2nd, making a stop in Minnesota on April 4th and wrapping up the regular season on April 6th at home against the Lightning.

Tampa Bay Lightning 2018-19 Season Preview

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Tampa Bay Lightning

54-23-5, 113 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division

Lost in the Eastern Conference Final to WSH, 4-3

Additions: F Andy Andreoff (acquired from LA), D Cameron Gaunce

Subtractions: F Carter Ashton (signed, KHL), D Mathew Bodie (signed, KHL), G Peter Budaj (traded to LA), F Erik Condra (signed with DAL), F Alex Gallant (signed with VGK), F Chris Kunitz (signed with CHI), F Matthew Peca (signed with MTL), D Andrej Sustr (signed with ANA)

Still Unsigned: D Jamie McBain

Re-signed: F Adam Erne, D Slater Koekkoek, F Kevin Lynch, F Cedric Paquette

Offseason Analysis: The 2017-18 Tampa Bay Lightning had their best season in franchise history. Well, regular season, that is. Jon Cooper led his team from behind the bench to a 54-23-5 record (113 points) and the first seed in the Eastern Conference all the way to the 2018 Eastern Conference Final against the Washington Capitals– their former division rival in what was once the Southeast Division.

It was their first postseason meeting since 2011 and the Bolts had home ice advantage in a Game 7. What could possibly go wrong? Washington was never supposed to get past the Second Round, let alone beat the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to landing in the Eastern Conference Final– plus Alex Ovechkin was always criticized for his Game 7 play in his career– and the Lightning had all of their offensive weapons, including Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

But Stamkos had no points in Game 7 against Washington, similar to the last five Game 7s he’s played. In six career Game 7s, Stamkos is pointless. Both literally and figuratively, if you may.

Tampa was shutout on home ice and their 2018 postseason run came to a crashing halt, one win shy of reaching their second Stanley Cup Final in three years.

For a team that’s made the Eastern Conference Final in three of the last four calendar years (2015, 2016 and 2018)– they’ve only gotten better, yet they haven’t had the results they’ve wanted (or expected) by now.

Steve Yzerman walked into the Lightning front office with Stamkos and Victor Hedman already on the roster, he left its day-to-day duties having drafted Kucherov (2011) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (2012), while signing an undrafted Tyler Johnson and acquiring Ryan Callahan, Mikhail Sergachev, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller over the years.

Yzerman’s seamless transition from Tampa’s face of the franchise star in Martin St. Louis to Stamkos, Kucherov and Co. was destined to win a Cup while the former face of the Detroit Red Wings superstar was at the helm of operations.

But Yzerman stepped down as General Manager, leaving the duties of cap management and roster creation to now former assistant GM Julien BriseBois earlier this month.

BriseBois’ transition to power will be peaceful, as Yzerman was sure to lock up core members of the roster in Kucherov and McDonagh to extensions beginning in the 2019-20 season this offseason.

It’d be unfair to grade BriseBois’ offseason maneuvers over the last 16 days at the same weight as the rest of the GMs in the league, but it’s worth noting– neither Yzerman nor BriseBois were able to snag Erik Karlsson in a trade with the Ottawa Senators.

Instead, the biggest prize on the trading block this offseason went to the San Jose Sharks– a team the Lightning can only face in the postseason in the Stanley Cup Final. If they make it that far.

Yzerman chose not to re-sign Chris Kunitz and Andrej Sustr, seeing the former as too old for Tampa’s core and the latter as an expendable asset that was a healthy scratch most nights. He did, however, re-sign glue guy forwards Adam Erne and Cedric Paquette, as well as defender Slater Koekkoek to one-year bridge deals.

Their successful roster is largely intact, despite trading backup goaltender Peter Budaj to the Los Angeles Kinds for forward Andy Andreoff early this summer, but as Cooper seeks to decrease Vasilevskiy’s workload, Budaj’s 3.77 goals against average and .876 save percentage in eight games last season weren’t going to cut it– even with his injuries.

Budaj’s back with the Ontario Reign (AHL) after Jack Campbell beat him out for the backup job behind Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Louis Domingue looks to improve on his 2.89 GAA and .914 SV% in 12 appearances with the Lightning last season, after going winless in seven appearances with the Arizona Coyotes (4.33 GAA, .856 SV%) before being acquired by Tampa.

Budaj’s eight appearances and Domingue’s 12 games in a Bolts uniform left Vasilevskiy to suit up for a career-high 65 games last season. He had a 2.62 GAA and a career-high .920 SV% in what was a Vezina Trophy finalist year with a 44-17-3 record.

While Vasilevskiy is one of the top-starting netminders in the league, 65 games played in the regular season, plus a maximum 28 potential games in the postseason is nearly 100 games of hockey. Multiply that by 60 minutes and, well, you get the point (hopefully).

Cooper has to rely on Domingue and his defense to reduce the minutes Vasilevskiy has to stand on his feet (or head) in order to keep his number one goaltender from getting fatigued.

Goaltending is all about finding that sweet spot– both in the rhythm of the game while making saves and in the ebbs and flows of the season-long schedule (including the possibility of a deep postseason run).

Offseason Grade: C+

So that’s it really.

Tampa didn’t create a mega-defense, because they didn’t get Karlsson. San Jose did.

They didn’t cause a disturbance in the Force with two potential No. 91s that would’ve seen John Tavares assume a new identity on the roster, because the Toronto Maple Leafs signed the biggest free agent on the market.

And that’s okay.

For Tampa, an “average” offseason meant sticking with their guys– the ones that reached the Final in 2015, almost reached it in 2016 and were brought in for the Conference Final run in 2018. Other than nailing down a backup goalie, the Bolts are ready to defend their top of the table standing in the Atlantic Division.

Yzerman Steps Down as Lightning GM, BriseBois Takes Over

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There’s a new General Manager in town as Julien BriseBois was named to the position of Vice President, General Manager and Alternate Governor of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday afternoon. Steve Yzerman stepped aside to become Senior Advisor to the General Manager in the final year of his contract with the franchise’s front office.

Yzerman cited wanting to spend more time with his family as the 53-year-old former NHLer has been commuting from Detroit to Tampa, The Athletic‘s Pierre LeBrun noted in a tweet.

BriseBois becomes the seventh General Manager in Lightning history, inheriting a team loaded with talent stockpiled over the tenure of Yzerman at the reins.

A native of Greenland Park, Quebec, BriseBois, 41, had served as Tampa’s Assistant General Manager under Yzerman since the 2010-11 season after previously working for the Montreal Canadiens as their Vice President of Hockey Operations. He also had been the General Manager of the Syracuse Crunch– Tampa’s current AHL affiliate– during his role under Yzerman.

Rumors have swirled before that the Detroit Red Wings are looking to shake up their front office during their ongoing rebuild, but the earliest the Red Wings could begin to interview Yzerman– should he be interested– wouldn’t be until his contract runs out with Tampa. Additionally, current Detroit GM Ken Holland, 62, signed a two-year extension last season through the end of 2019-20.

That’s right about the time the prospective expansion team in Seattle would be courting potential candidates for their General Manager position too.

For now, let the speculation run wild if you must, but The Athletic‘s Craig Custance has already laid out all the facts.

Yzerman’s tenure with the Lightning will go down as a memorable one– including a 2015 Stanley Cup Final appearance– despite not winning a Cup.

On a roster that already included Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, Yzerman added players like Ryan Callahan in the Martin St. Louis trade with the New York Rangers, J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh in the Vladislav Namestnikov deal with New York and Mikhail Sergachev from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Jonathan Drouin over the years while drafting Nikita Kucherov in 2011 and Andrei Vasilevskiy in 2012.

He also was responsible for signing an undrafted Tyler Johnson in 2011.

Tampa had a 340-222-60 record with Yzerman as their General Manager (2010-18). During that time, the Lightning’s best season record (54-23-5, 113 points) in franchise history was just last season (2017-18).

2018 Offseason Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Tampa Bay Lightning and their outlook for the summer.

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General Manager Steve Yzerman added Mikhail Sergachev at the expense of Jonathan Drouin last June in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens, added some veteran leadership in four-time Stanley Cup champion, Chris Kunitz, and the Tampa Bay Lightning never looked back*.

*In the regular season, that is. The fun came to a halt in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final.

Jon Cooper out-coached the entire Eastern Conference in the regular season, leading his Lightning club to 1st place in the Atlantic Division with 113 points on the season and a 54-23-5 record.

The Bolts cruised through the New Jersey Devils in five games in the First Round, then lost Game 1 against the Boston Bruins in the Second Round. Tampa didn’t let another game slip away, winning four straight to eliminate the Bruins and advance to their third Eastern Conference Finals appearance in four years.

But then the Lightning caught up with the Washington Capitals and the Caps stole their thunder.

Washington won Games 1 and 2, Tampa stormed back for Games 3, 4 and 5. Braden Holtby and the Capitals settled in for Game 6 and Steven Stamkos still has yet to produce a point in a Game 7 after the Lightning were shut out 4-0 on home ice.

Just like that, one of the best teams in the NHL was eliminated.

For all of Yzerman’s magic, Tampa has only been to the Stanley Cup Final once, in 2015.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Speaking of Yzerman’s magic, the Lightning GM acquired J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers in exchange for Libor Hajek, Brett Howden, Vladislav Namestnikov, a 2018 first round pick (28th overall) and a conditional 2019 second round pick.

If you thought Don Sweeney and the Boston Bruins overpaid for the services of Rick Nash, well….

Miller is a pending-RFA and the numbers– barring any trades– don’t look good at the forward sticking around long-term. But let’s ignore that trade for a second and focus more on the fact that Tampa doesn’t have a first round pick in Friday’s first round of the 2018 Draft.

Only time will tell if the Bolts find a way into the top-31 picks.

In defense of Tampa and Boston, sometimes these trades work out and are the difference maker between an exciting Stanley Cup champions DVD or not and sometimes they don’t pan out at all.

Pending free agents

Yzerman and Tampa’s front office staff have about $7.210 million to spend this summer with a mixture of talent and skill levels to re-sign.

Andy Andreoff, 27, was recently acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for backup goaltender Peter Budaj, which all but assures one of the pending free agents will be replaced heading into 2018-19.

In an evolving game where the emphasis on youth, speed and skill is more than ever before, logic indicates that 38-year-old, Chris Kunitz, will be on his way out the door, despite his 13-16–29 totals in 82 games.

For all that Kunitz did in the regular season, however, he only had one assist in 17 games this postseason.

Tampa has three pending-RFA forwards to re-sign this offseason in Adam Erne, J.T. Miller and Cedric Paquette.

Erne, 23, had three goals and one assist (four points) in 23 games with the Lightning this season and 6-1–7 totals in 49 career NHL games. Tampa’s 33rd overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft has yet to see full-time status at the NHL level and shouldn’t need a raise if Yzerman is set on keeping him around as a bottom-6 forward.

Miller, 25, is a little more complicated.

The durable forward had a $2.750 million cap hit on his most recent contract– a two-year extension signed with the Rangers– and 23-35–58 totals in 82 games with Tampa and New York this season, setting career-highs in goals, assists and points.

He’s going to need a bigger piece of the salary cap pie, having reached the 50-point plateau for the second time in his career and fourth season in-a-row of 40-points or more.

Unless the Lightning can convince Ryan Callahan to waive his modified no-trade-clause/no-movement-clause and dump his $5.800 million cap hit, there’s not a lot of wiggle room.

Yzerman’s roster is filled with NTCs, NMCs and modified versions of the two. It’s not as bad as the Detroit Red Wings, as most players with the aforementioned clauses in Tampa have one-year remaining on their contract and, again, a modified version of a no-trade clause (in which the player lists teams he can/cannot be traded to).

Tyler Johnson, in the meantime, is only 27, has a $5.000 million cap hit through the 2023-24 season and a no-trade-clause that doesn’t go into affect until July 1st.

If desperate times call for desperate measures any Johnson transaction would be a clear measure of Yzerman’s skill as a GM. The return wouldn’t be as much of a home run as Sergachev was for Drouin, but Yzerman would have to find a way to get it there.

Finally, the 24-year-old fourth line center in Cedric Paquette is due for a new deal.

Since amassing 19 points in 64 games in 2014-15 with Tampa, Paquette’s production has faltered to just five goals and four assists (nine points) in 56 games this season.

Anything more than a million dollars and longer than three years could come back to bite the Bolts, if they offer an extension.

27-year-old Andrej Sustr might have been bumped out of the Lightning’s top-6 defenders, considering he only played in 44 regular season games and appeared in zero postseason games.

Sustr’s next best deal is going to come from another team after spending the last six seasons in Tampa.

Slater Koekkoek, 24, had four goals and four assists (eight points) in 35 games with the Lightning this season, but was held out of postseason play. The pending-RFA should see another go around with the Bolts, especially if Yzerman pulls of a trade, but stranger things have happened and Koekkoek could end up looking elsewhere for employment.

In goal, the Lightning have 23-year-old starter, Andrei Vasilevskiy locked up for two more years at a $3.500 million cap hit. After that, they’re looking for one of their AHL guys to step into the backup role or searching the market.

Buyouts on the books: Matthew Carle at $1.833 million through the 2019-20 season.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Alex Gallant (RFA), Erik Condra (UFA), Jamie McBain (UFA), Louis Domingue (RFA), Matthew Peca (UFA), Mat Bodie (UFA)

Vasilevskiy makes ECF a best-of-three series

 

By winning Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals 4-2 at Capital One Arena, the Tampa Bay Lightning have reclaimed home-ice advantage from the Washington Capitals by leveling the series at two victories apiece.

With Washington out-shooting the visiting Lightning 38-20, no Bolt deserves more credit for the victory than First Star of the Game G Andrei Vasilevskiy. After allowing the first goal of the game to D Dmitry Orlov (F T.J. Oshie and D Matt Niskanen) only 4:28 into the contest, Vasilevskiy proceeded to post a 36-for-38 effort (.947 save percentage) despite facing no fewer than nine shots against per frame. In particular, Vasilevskiy stood extremely tall when taking on Washington’s four power plays, as he saved all nine shots faced while his club was shorthanded.

Meanwhile, G Braden Holtby only wishes his play looked anywhere near as good as Vasilevskiy’s. His 16-for-19 performance (.842 save percentage) was borderline disastrous, especially given the incredible help his offense was providing him.

Wait, offense?

Yes, it was not the Capitals’ defense, but their offense that truly kept Holtby’s workload light. Not only did they more than double Tampa’s shots on goal in both the first and second periods (15-7 and 14-6, respectively), but the Caps also held extended possessions in their offensive zone. Pair that with Oshie’s two takeaways and W Devante Smith-Pelly‘s six hits, and you find a team that made life so easy on its goaltender that he just might have grown complacent.

That’s not to say the goals he allowed were soft. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Take for example Second Star F Brayden Point‘s (F Yanni Gourde and F Tyler Johnson) tic-tac-goal only 1:10 after Orlov’s that tied the game at one-all. Holtby was forced to shade towards his left post when he saw Gourde – who scored 25 goals this season, the fourth-most among all rookies – all by himself inside the near face-off circle, but some deft passing across the slot to Point was all the second line needed to take advantage of a sloppy pass by D Michal Kempny.

Similarly, it’s hard to blame Holtby for his second goal allowed in the first period, registered only 2:54 after Point’s. This time, he was tasked with keeping Tampa’s lethal power play off the scoreboard thanks to C Lars Eller‘s holding penalty against RW Nikita Kucherov 1:05 before.

A power play that had scored at least once in eight previous contests is obviously in a groove, and that groove continued at the 8:32 mark of the game when C Steven Stamkos (Point and F J.T. Miller) set the score at 2-1 with a one-timer from the slot.

For those keeping track at home, the Lightning now sport a 30.8 percent power play conversion rate that is tops among the four teams still competing for the Stanley Cup, trailing only Boston – their opponent in the previous round – for the mark of best power play in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Though the score never changed, the remaining 11:28 of the first period was far from uneventful. However, the previously mentioned shots on goal were not the only activity as even the missed shots drew many a Capitals fan to his or her feet. In particular, W Alex Ovechkin had more than his fair share of salivating shots on net – both in this frame as well as the entire game – but many of those whizzed past the wrong side of the post and harmlessly crashed into the endboards.

Just when it seemed like Vasilevskiy was going to be unbreakable for the remainder of the tilt, Third Star F Evgeny Kuznetsov (Ovechkin and RW Tom Wilson) sprung hope anew in Washington with his wrist shot 5:18 into the second period.

With the exception of Kuznetsov’s path taking him along the left boards instead of between the face-off circles, this goal was eerily reminiscent of the marker that eliminated Pittsburgh from the playoffs for the first time since April 2015. A long pass from Ovechkin sprung his countryman for a breakaway opportunity against the goaltender (who, by happenstance, is also a fellow Russian), who he beat five-hole.

Thanks to some incredible defense played by both clubs (RW Ryan Callahan matched Smith-Pelly’s six hits and D Ryan McDonagh blocked a game-high four shots), that 2-2 tie lasted 26:39 before Tampa third-liner F Alex Killorn (W Ondrej Palat and D Mikhail Sergachev) provided the game-winning goal.

Struck six seconds after Eller was released from the penalty box (his second foul of the night, this time for hooking the eventual goalscorer), Killorn showed some impressive puck-handling skills inside the crease to convert a forehanded shot that would likely be stopped by Holtby’s left leg into a backhand that sneaked between the netminder’s wickets.

With 2:09 remaining in regulation, Head Coach Barry Trotz was forced to pull his goaltender for the second consecutive game. Tampa Bay was unable to convert on the empty net in Game 3, but rookie C Anthony Cirelli bested that effort with 62 seconds remaining to cement the Bolts’ series-evening victory.

Now that they’ve given up the home-ice advantage they worked so desperately to win in Florida, the Capitals must now find a way to win at least one more game at Amalie Arena. A good first step towards doing that – especially for Eller – will be to avoid the penalty box, as the Caps’ 73.7 percent successful penalty kill is the worst remaining in the playoffs.

Saturday is the day for the Eastern Conference Finals’ all-important Game 5. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Eastern (right after the Preakness Stakes) and may be viewed on CBC, NBC and TVAS.

Lightning thunder back to even series with 4-2 win in Game 2

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Tampa’s second line of Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat got the job done in Game 2 as the Lightning won, 4-2, on Monday night at Amalie Arena— leveling their Second Round series with the Boston Bruins, 1-1.

Andrei Vasilevskiy had 18 saves on 20 shots faced for a .900 save percentage in the win, while Boston’s Tuukka Rask made 27 saves on 30 shots against for a .900 SV% in 58:34 time on ice in the loss.

Tension escalated quickly in Game 2 as Cedric Paquette was handed a roughing minor for his activity with David Backes after the whistle just 5:30 into the action. Backes, meanwhile, was handed two roughing minor penalties and the Bruins were shorthanded as a result. Tampa did not convert on their first power play opportunity of the night.

Exactly halfway through the first period, Boston defender, Torey Krug, was called for slashing Point with a quick chop across the shin pad and the Lightning went on their second power play of the game.

While on the penalty kill, Zdeno Chara accidentally bumped into the net, forcing it off its moorings. Almost a minute went by before the officials realized what was up behind Rask and blew the whistle to cease play.

The Lightning won the ensuing faceoff, worked the puck down low, around the boards, then back to the point and finally to Yanni Gourde (2) who lobbed a shot on Rask. The puck caught Rask’s right leg pad and deflected into the goal to put Tampa on the scoreboard first, 1-0, and give Gourde a power play goal at 11:47 of the first period.

Point (4) and Mikhail Sergachev (2) had the assists on Gourde’s goal and the Bolts were outshooting Boston, 10-0.

Almost a few minutes later, Johnson took a roughing penalty after a whistle, having been tangled up with Brad Marchand. Fifteen seconds later, Ryan McDonagh gave the Bruins a 5-on-3 advantage for running Marchand into the boards— though McDonagh was only assessed a minor penalty for roughing at 14:17

Just prior to their first power play opportunity, Patrice Bergeron recorded Boston’s first shot on goal, 14:01 into the game.

While on the power play, Ryan Callahan blocked a couple of shots, Boston worked the puck around the offensive zone really well and David Pastrnak rang the goalpost. The B’s did not convert on their two-man advantage.

Minutes later, while in the offensive zone, Bergeron sent a pass back to Charlie McAvoy as the 20-year-old defender snuck his way in from the point. McAvoy (1) fired a shot past Vasilevskiy for his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and tied the game, 1-1, for Boston.

Bergeron (9) and Marchand (10) notched the assists on McAvoy’s goal at 18:30 of the first period.

After one period of play, the game was tied, 1-1, with the Lightning dominating the first half of the first period and the Bruins in complete control of the second half of the period. Boston trailed Tampa, 10-0, in shots on goal as the Bolts went up, 1-0, but the Lightning were held without a shot on goal for the last 8:33 of the opening period as Boston tied the game.

Tampa led in shots on goal (10-8), hits (13-9), takeaways (4-2), giveaways (5-4) and faceoff win percentage (65-35) after 20 minutes of play. Meanwhile, the Bruins led in blocked shots (8-4). Boston was 0/2 on the power play and the Lightning were 1/2 through one period.

After Tampa cleared the puck off glass, Point fed Johnson (3) on a rush that led to Johnson beating Rask, high-glove side. Point (5) and Palat (4) had the assists on Johnson’s goal at 10:14 of the 2nd period and the Lightning had a 2-1 lead.

Victor Hedman was penalized for holding Boston fourth liner, Sean Kuraly, at 10:31 and the Bruins went on their third power play of the evening. They did not convert on the man advantage.

Through 40 minutes of play, Tampa led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 18-13. The Bolts also led in hits (35-18), takeaways (6-4) and faceoff win percentage (64-36), while the B’s had an advantage in blocked shots (11-6) and giveaways (11-6) after two periods. Boston was 0/3 on the power play and the Lightning were 1/2.

The Bruins did not register a shot on goal in the last 9:14 of the second period and totaled over 23 minutes without a shot on goal through 40 minutes of action.

Tempers flared after Kevan Miller hit Point from behind and was dealt a boarding minor. Krug (roughing), Anton Stralman (cross checking) and Gourde (roughing) were all penalized for their actions in the scrum after the whistle, so neither team had a power play at 3:18 of the third period.

On a faceoff, moments later, Pastrnak attempted to lift Hedman’s stick and in doing so, sent the Lightning defender’s stick into his own face. This is— albeit by an unconventional definition— high-sticking, per the rulebook, as Hedman was cut from the play.

Pastrnak was sent to the box with a four-minute, double-minor at 7:31 of the third period. Boston killed off both penalties.

As Marchand attempted to clear the puck from his own defensive zone almost seven minutes later, he turned it over in the neutral zone, forcing a pass from Point to Palat for the breakaway.

Palat (2) capitalized on a high-glove side shot that beat Rask and gave the Lightning a two-goal lead, 3-1, at 14:08. Point (6) had the only assist on the goal as a result of Marchand’s costly turnover.

About a minute later, Krug (3) rocketed a slap shot past Vasilevskiy to cut Tampa’s lead to one. Pastrnak (13) and Marchand (11) had the assists on the goal at 15:58 of the third period.

With about 90 seconds remaining in regulation, Bruce Cassidy pulled his goaltender for the extra skater, but it was to no avail as Point (2) pocketed the empty net goal with about 25 seconds left in the game. Hedman (2) collected the lone assist as the Lightning put the game away, 4-2.

At the final horn, Tampa had evened the series, 1-1, with a 4-2 victory in Game 2 on home ice. The Bolts finished the night leading in shots on goal (31-20), hits (42-24) and faceoff win percentage (57-43), while Boston led in blocked shots (13-8) and giveaways (13-6).

The Bruins finished the night 0/3 on the power play and the Lightning went 1/4 on the man advantage.

The series shifts to Boston for Game 3 at TD Garden on Wednesday night. The winner will take a pivotal, 2-1, series lead and puck drop is set for 7:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the game on NBCSN. Fans in Canada can tune to CBC or TVAS for their fill.

Bruins steal the thunder from the Lightning, 6-2, in Game 1

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Rick Nash (2-0—2), David Pastrnak (0-4—4) and the Boston Bruins ripped apart the Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-2, in Game 1 on Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena.

Tuukka Rask had 34 saves on 36 shots faced for a .944 save percentage in the win for Boston, while Tampa’s netminder, Andrei Vasilevskiy, made 18 saves on 23 shots against for a .783 SV% in 59:18 time on ice in the loss.

Ryan Callahan was guilty of the first penalty in the series after tripping Bruins defender, Kevan Miller, late in the first period.

Boston converted on the ensuing power play just eight seconds later as David Pastrnak fired a shot from the point that Rick Nash (2) tipped past Vasilevskiy at 17:11 of the first period. Pastrnak (9) and Patrice Bergeron (8) had the assists on the goal that made it, 1-0, Bruins.

After one period of play in Tampa, Boston was leading, 1-0, on the scoreboard and, 13-11, in shots on goal. The Bruins also led in blocked shots (7-3) and giveaways (6-1). Meanwhile, the Lightning led in takeaways (4-2). Hits were even (11-11) as was faceoff win percentage (50-50) and the Bruins were 1/1 on the power play after 20 minutes (Tampa had yet to see a man advantage).

Bergeron (2) gave Boston a two-goal lead 42 seconds into the second period on a one-timer past Vasilevskiy. Pastrnak (10) and Brad Marchand (7) notched the assists on the goal after Pastrnak sold a drive to the net and passed the puck across the low slot to Bergeron for the shot on net.

Less than two minutes later, Dan Girardi (1) put the Lightning on the board, cutting the lead in half, with a slap shot from the point that deflected off of Bruins blueliner, Matt Grzelcyk, and went past Rask to make it a 2-1 game. Cedric Paquette (1) and Victor Hedman (1) had the assists on the goal at 2:31 of the second period.

Marchand thought he had a goal of his own midway through the period, but a delayed penalty ruled the goal dead as Pastrnak cross checked Tyler Johnson behind the play, giving Tampa their first power play of the afternoon.

The Bolts did not convert on the ensuing man advantage.

Shortly after killing off Pastrnak’s penalty, Rick Nash (3) fired a shot off the iron and in, giving the Bruins a 3-1 lead at 12:33 of the second period with his second goal of the game. David Krejci (7) and Pastrnak (11) had the assists.

Twelve seconds later, Jake DeBrusk was sent to the sin bin for interference and the Lightning went back on the power play.

This time, however, the Bolts would score thanks to an odd scenario for Rask. Boston’s netminder lost his left skate blade and couldn’t move across the ice as well, but fell victim to the fact that the only rule in which the whistle is blown for a goaltender’s equipment malfunction is if the goaltender’s mask comes off.

As such, Mikhail Sergachev (2) took advantage of a mostly empty net and brought Tampa within one, 3-2. Brayden Point (3) and Yanni Gourde (2) had the assists on the goal at 13:22.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and trailed the Lightning in shots on goal, 25-18. Boston led in blocked shots (11-4) and giveaways (8-4), while Tampa led in hits (24-21) and faceoff win percentage (51-49).

Charlie McAvoy intentionally shot wide aiming to connect on a redirect and Marchand (4) finally got his first goal of the afternoon, giving Boston a 4-2 lead 3:32 into the third period. McAvoy (2) had the only assist on the goal.

Midway through the third, it was Boston’s first line again making magic happen as Pastrnak worked a pass off to Marchand, Marchand delayed the next move and circled with the puck and sent it over to Bergeron (3) for Bergeron’s second goal of the game.

Marchand (8) and Pastrnak (12) had the assists on Bergeron’s goal at 10:11 of the third period. Pastrnak completed a four-point day (all assists), giving the Bruins a 5-2 lead.

DeBrusk was sent to the box for cross checking about a minute later and the Bolts failed to convert on the ensuing power play.

With just under seven minutes remaining in regulation, Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, pulled his goaltender for the extra skater. It did not work out the way he planned.

Fresh out the box, DeBrusk (6) rushed in on a pass from Marchand and buried the empty net goal at 13:41 of the third period. 6-2, Boston. Marchand (9) and McAvoy (3) had the assists and all of the Bruins first line forwards completed four-point efforts in the game.

At the final horn, the Bruins had won 6-2 and taken a 1-0 series lead.

Boston led in blocked shots (21-6) after regulation and trailed the Lightning in shots on goal (36-24) and hits (33-27). Tampa finished the afternoon 1/3 on the power play and Boston went 1/1.

Game 2 is set for Monday night in Tampa. Puck drop at Amalie Arena is expected a little after 7:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can watch the action on NBCSN. Fans in Canada can follow along on CBC or TVAS.

Lightning win, 3-1, eliminate Devils in five games

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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.

New Jersey’s Damon Severson served a minor for holding Tampa’s Brayden Point at 13:26 of the second period. The Lightning did not convert on the ensuing power play.

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.

Deal(t) with the Devil: Tampa fends off scrappy New Jersey to take Game 1

 

Funny thing, hockey.

In one corner we have the Atlantic Division champion Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that for long stretches of the year looked nigh-on immortal, and made ritual of beating basically everyone who dared stand in their path.

In the other corner stands a New Jersey squad that just squeaked into the playoffs in a wild card spot, have a roster with almost as many ‘misfit toys’ as the upstart Golden Knights, and… went undefeated against the Lightning in the regular season?

Well. Color me interested.

The Devils made a season of being the eternal underdogs. Apart from Hart Trophy favorite Taylor Hall, they really don’t possess much in the way of name value. Goaltender Cory Schneider spent much of the year hurt, and struggled upon his return. But career-backup Keith Kinkaid won 26 games this year (he’d won just 23 in four previous seasons combined) and stole the starting job heading into the playoffs.

New Jersey headed into Amalie Arena as perhaps the biggest underdogs in all the playoffs, and for good reason. Tampa Bay is as deadly a hockey team as you’ll find in the NHL today, boasting four stellar lines, six quality defensemen, and a Vezina candidate goaltender. For the first half of this game, the script went just as the numbers suggested it should.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper elected to start the game with his fourth line, and John Hynes elected to follow suit. It gave the start of the game some energy, and showed that neither coach is afraid to try something a bit off-the-beaten-path.

Apart from a follow-through on an attempted shot by Miles Wood treating Bolts defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to a bloody nose, the first few minutes passed without many notable incidents or quality chances, but saw Tampa controlling a good portion of the play. As the clock neared halfway point of the period, Tampa began to settle in and the chances started coming.

First it was Yanni Gourde chipping a loose puck past a pinching defender to create a two-on-one. The winger streaked into the zone and put Kinkaid out into about the fourth row of seats with a beautiful move, but just couldn’t quite direct the puck into the yawning cage as it rolled off the end of his stick. He wouldn’t need to wait long for another chance, as on his line’s next shift he corralled a loose puck out of a netfront scramble, but Kinkaid was able to track it through the mess of sticks and skates to shut the door on #37.

The very next faceoff saw a bouncing puck lure Kinkaid out of the blue paint while attempting to cover up, and the puck ended up coming right to – you guessed it – Gourde who wasn’t quite able to control it and get a shot away.

Finally at the 15:00 mark it would be Tampa’s second line going to work down low in the zone and Tyler Johnson would feed Ondrej Palat from below the goal line, and after a quick set of dekes the 2016 playoffs standout lifted a backhand shot over the pad of Kinkaid to put the Lightning up 1-0.

Still, the Bolts kept coming. Anthony Cirelli nearly scored on a wraparound with 2:30 to play, but the toe of Kinkaid was equal to the task.

Finally New Jersey got a quality chance, as Vasilevskiy turned the puck over attempting to play it behind his net, but was able to recover in time to cover up as everyone crashed the net and a scrum ensued.

With 28 seconds left to play, it would be Tampa’s second line again making plays deep in the offensive zone, this time with Palat and Brayden Point forcing a turnover, and Palat sending a perfect pass to the tape of a driving Johnson who made no mistakes and buried it over the glove of Kinkaid.

Shot clock only read a two-shot advantage (13-11) to Tampa at the end of one, but the quality chances were all on one end of the ice.

The momentum would continue in Tampa’s favor at the beginning of the second period, as an early power play opportunity presented itself and they made sure to cash in. Gourde, on what by my count was about his 42nd quality scoring chance of the game, hammered home a slam-dunk after a ridiculous kick-pass across the netmouth by Palat to put the home team up by three.

The very next shift is when things began to change, as Michael Grabner and Pat Maroon would combine for about three legitimate bids in quick succession, but Vasilevskiy was able to turn them all aside. Later in the frame it would be New Jersey with a power play opportunity, where they’d get three or four high-quality chances that Vasilevskiy had the answers to.

Finally with just over six minutes to play in the second, Hall (because who else?) would crack the goose egg and get his team on the board, pouncing on an egregious defensive zone turnover by Palat and burying the opportunity before Vasilevskiy could get set.

The Devils didn’t let up, nearly scoring again with just over a minute remaining on a big-time deflection (chest height to the ice in the blink of an eye) on a Mirco Mueller point shot that Vasilevskiy somehow managed to track and react to, kicking out the right pad in a flash and gobbling up the rebound to prevent further chaos.

Capitalizing on the big momentum shift, New Jersey heavily outshot the boys in blue to lead on the shot clock 26-20 after 40 minutes, hoping to carry it into the third and try to close down the two-goal margin.

Carry it into the third they did not. The Bolts would tally the first seven shots of the period, and at one point briefly thought they had scored when Alex Killorn tipped a shot at the side of the net that Kinkaid just barely managed to keep out (Killorn even momentarily raised his arms in celebration). The third line kept the Devils hemmed in their own zone after the near-miss, and finally a dominating shift came to an end when Gourde (obviously) took a cross-ice pass from Cirelli off of a turnover and ripped a one-time blast just over the crossbar and out of play. New Jersey would not register a single shot until nearly 9:30 into the third period.

But, at 9:35 of the third, Jersey’s second shot of the period was a power play goal by Travis Zajac (one of only two players on either roster to have played the last time these two teams met in the playoffs 11 years ago*) who deflected a beautifully-sold shot-pass by Hall just over the glove of Vasilevskiy to drag the visitors to within one.

*The other was Andy Greene

Now Tampa is on the back foot. New Jersey is charging. Can they complete the comeback? How will the Lightning survive the onslaught?

Oh hey look, it’s that Killorn-Cirelli-Gourde line again.

Yes, the unstoppable force known as Tampa’s third line did it again, this time with Gourde forcing a turnover by Maroon at the blueline, then leading his linemates on a three-on-two rush up the ice, eventually feeding it to the trailer Killorn in the high slot. Cirelli drove the net to create the diversion, but Kinkaid was never catching up to this one anyhow. PING goes the crossbar, an absolute laser by the Harvard grad restores the two-goal lead just under two minutes after it had been erased.

Tampa followed their goal with a solid fourth-line shift, capped off by a thundering check on Hall by the playoffs’ only four-time Cup winner Chris Kunitz, and the Devils star would be slow to his feet, though he would finish the game.

Kinkaid retreated to the bench with 2:30 to play, but it would be all-for-not, as with 1:12 left Nikita Kucherov (who had been mostly silent until that point) dangled a Devils defender and waltzed in to bury the dagger.

At the final horn, a good deal of pushing and shoving came about, with the Devils hoping to set a tone heading into Game 2 (which I’ll just so happen to be covering, as well) on Saturday afternoon.

The story of this game was really a tale of two major plots.

First was simply the unbridled speed of Tampa Bay. New Jersey is arguably one of maybe two teams in the league that have a legitimate shot at keeping up with Tampa’s pace, and in this one they were totally outclassed. If they can’t find a way to clog things up and slow the Bolts down, they are going to be in trouble.

Second, and probably the even more daunting challenge, is the sheer depth of the Lightning lineup. The Devils did a spectacular job of silencing Tampa’s lethal #1 line of J.T. Miller – Steven Stamkos – Kucherov, but the Devils simply don’t have the same top-to-bottom quality that the Bolts depth chart possesses.

Palat-Point-Johnson is a top line on probably a third of other NHL squads.

Killorn-Cirelli-Gourde is an impossible speed/skill matchup for nearly any other third line.

Kunitz-Paquette-Callahan will forecheck whatever is left of you into the ground.

Tack on one of the best one-through-six defense corps in the league, and it’s borderline impossible for any club to gain a matchup advantage, especially on the road where the home team gets last change.

Nothing is impossible in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but New Jersey is going to need some help from the hockey gods from the looks of things.