Tag Archives: Tyler Johnson

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.

Unknown-3

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.

Victor’s Bolts “Heded” in right direction after Game 3 win

 

On a dark and stormy night in the District of Columbia, the Tampa Bay Lightning pulled off the Eastern Conference Finals’ third-straight road victory by beating the Washington Capitals 4-2 at Capital One Arena in Game 3.

Just like Game 2 was all about the Capitals’ offense, the same can be said about Tampa’s in Game 3. In particular, the Bolts’ power play was cruising early, as it provided two of Tampa’s goals en route to a 3-0 advantage.

Taking advantage of G Braden Holtby‘s trip against F Yanni Gourde (RW Alex Chiasson served the penalty) with 7:03 remaining in the first period, C Steven Stamkos (Second Star of the Game D Victor Hedman and F Brayden Point) ripped a Little Einsteins (Americans with the privilege of hearing Pierre McGuire’s analysis should know what I’m talking about) slap shot past Holtby to give Tampa the lead only 56 seconds after Chiasson took his seat.

Considering the score only read 1-0 in the first intermission, Washington seemed like it had kept things under control in the opening 20 minutes. After all, the Capitals fired a game-high 14 shots on goal in the first period – all of which were saved by First Star G Andrei Vasilevskiy.

However, that hypothesis was torn to shreds only 1:50 into the second frame, thanks in large part to C Lars Eller‘s unwise penalty for closing his hand on the puck. After only 16 seconds of five-on-four play later, Third Star RW Nikita Kucherov (Hedman and Stamkos) set the Bolts’ lead at 2-0 with a clapper from the right face-off dot.

An easy snap shot is all Hedman (Kucherov and W Ondrej Palat) needed to find his first goal of the 2018 postseason. With Holtby shading towards Kucherov in the right face-off circle, a quick pass allowed Hedman to capitalize on the gaping net and set the score at 3-0 only 1:47 after the Bolts’ first brace.

Keeping the offense going, Washington finally got on the board with 9:29 remaining in the second period. Taking advantage of Hedman’s failed clear, F Chandler Stephenson dished to W Brett Connolly (Stephenson and D Matt Niskanen) to set him up for a solid one-touch snap shot that beat Vasilevskiy stick side.

However, any positive energy caused by that goal was quickly nullified 5:32 later when Point (F Tyler Johnson and D Braydon Coburn) squeaked a wrist shot past Holtby’s right pad to set the score at 4-1.

With the Caps entering the third period trailing by three goals, logic would lead us to believe they would be firing as many shots on goal as possible to try and shrink that gap. Unfortunately for them, Tampa’s defense was not interested in the slightest in allowing many scoring opportunities.

Due in large part to Tampa Bay’s 18 blocks over the course of the entire game, Washington managed only 13 shots on goal in the final 20 minutes. D Ryan McDonagh played a large role in that effort with his game-high four blocks in the match.

Of course, the Lightning’s solid defense was at its best during five-on-five play. Once Head Coach Barry Trotz upped the ante a bit by pulling Holtby for the extra attacker, the playoff’s best offense finally found its second goal of the game when F Evgeny Kuznetsov (F T.J. Oshie and Eller) scored a wrister with 3:02 remaining in regulation. However, the 4-2 score held until the end of the contest, securing the Bolts’ first Conference Finals victory since May 22, 2016.

The biggest takeaway from this game is that the Tampa Bay team that many pegged to win the Stanley Cup last summer is still well and alive in this tournament. The Lightning’s offense finally found its footing against Holtby and Washington’s defense, and it was paired by a solid defense that stood tall when the Caps’ offense put the pedal to the metal. If Tampa is allowed to dominate Game 4 like it did Game 3, the Capitals will spoil their solid work at Amalie Arena just like Columbus did against them in the First Round.

Speaking of that Game 4, the Bolts’ opportunity to level the Eastern Finals at 2-2 is scheduled for Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern. The contest will be broadcast on CBC, NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

Caps’ attack too much for Bolts; win Game 1 4-2

 

After a 4-2 victory at Amalie Arena over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1, home ice in the Eastern Conference Finals now belongs to the Washington Capitals.

Between the actual 2-0 score and the fact that the Caps led 9-2 in shots on goal, we get a rather accurate impression of how the first 20 minutes went down.

The Caps almost exclusively dominated possession from the opening draw to the first TV timeout. They might have managed only two shots on goal in that time (which still exceeded Tampa’s zero), but the fact that they kept the puck in their offensive zone did a lot to wear out the Bolts’ defensemen early.

That pressure paid off in spades at the 7:28 mark when Washington drew first blood in the Eastern Finals. D Michal Kempny (Second Star of the Game F Evgeny Kuznetsov and D John Carlson) did the dirty work with a wrist shot from the blue line, his first-ever North American postseason marker.

Of course, the best weapon against possession is a stellar counterattack. RW Nikita Kucherov and the Lightning though they had done just that with seven seconds remaining before the first intermission, but it was ruled Tampa Bay had too many men on the ice, negating the goal and awarding a power play to Washington.

Entering the game with the best power play in the postseason (converting 30.9 percent of man-advantages into goals), the Caps completed their stellar command of the first frame by burying a man-advantage tally with only six seconds remaining in the frame.

Who else to score that power play goal than First Star W Alex Ovechkin (Kuznetsov and F T.J. Oshie)? Almost unexpectedly, Ovechkin departed from his usual spot in the left face-off circle and scored his patented one-touch slap shot from the blue line on a set play from Oshie’s face-off victory.

Washington picked up right where it left off 2:40 into the second period. Third Star F Jay Beagle (W Brett Connolly and D Dmitry Orlov) beat G Andrei Vasilevskiy five-hole from the slot, receiving an unintentional assist from D Braydon Coburn after Connolly’s centering pass bounced off his skate.

4:02 later, the score read 4-0 when C Lars Eller (Oshie and Ovechkin) converted a Kucherov roughing penalty into yet another power play goal – Washington’s final tally of the game.

What started as a 2-0 shot differential early in the first period became a 25-10 domination by the second intermission. It could be argued that LW Jakub Vrana‘s game-high five shots on goal is a major part of that, but I would instead point to Oshie’s two takeaways over the course of the game, as well as both Kucherov and FJ.T. Miller yielding two giveaways by the end of regulation.

Additionally, Washington was also excellent at blocking shots, as it managed 19 before retreating to its hotel that evening. Co-led by Carlson and D Matt Niskanen‘s three blocks apiece, the Caps’ blue line was a major reason for Tampa’s struggle to establish anything close to an offensive presence in the opening 40 minutes.

However, all that turned on its head in the third period when Head Coach Jon Cooper elected to bench Vasilevskiy, who saved 21-of-25 shots faced for a .84 save percentage, in favor of G Louis Domingue.

While Vasilevskiy could have certainly been better in this game, he didn’t give up any blatantly soft goals (looking at you, G Pekka Rinne). Instead, his benching was intended to be a message for his team, and the Lightning certainly responded just as Cooper wished.

It took 43:45 of play and RW Alex Chiasson sitting in the penalty box for slashing F Alex Killorn, but Tampa Bay finally got on the scoreboard when C Steven Stamkos (Kucherov and D Victor Hedman) did his best Ovechkin impression and scored a clapper from the left face-off circle, pulling the score to 4-1.

That was certainly more than enough to get the positive energy surging in the arena. Tampa out-shot the Capitals 11-7 in the third period, proving just how much of the game was  played in its attacking zone.

Keeping hope alive, another goal trickled by with 6:57 remaining in regulation when W Ondrej Palat (F Tyler Johnson and D Anton Stralman) beat G Braden Holtby short side with a wrister from the slot.

However, hope ran short in that remaining time due in large part to the solid effort of Holtby. Though it wasn’t his best game of the season, Holtby posed an imposing challenge even after the Bolts pulled Domingue for the extra attacker. In all, he saved his last four shots faced in the game, posting an 19-for-21 (.905 save percentage) overall performance.

If the Lightning learned one thing from this game, it is that they cannot continue committing penalties like they have been in these playoffs. Washington’s power play, which converted 50 percent tonight, is just too potent for the Bolts to continue serving the 14:41 penalty minutes per game that they’ve managed through the first two rounds.

Tampa’s first opportunity to resolve that issue is in Game 2, which is right back at Amalie Arena and scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern this Sunday. Fans unable to make it to Western Florida can catch the live broadcasts on CBC, NBCSN, SN and TVAS.

Lightning does strike twice: Bolts beat B’s 4-1 in Game 3

Unknown-3Unknown-7

 

 

 

 

 

The Tampa Bay Lightning took home a 4-1 victory in Game 3 over the Boston Bruins, leading the series 2-1 on Wednesday night at TD Garden.

Andrei Vasilevskiy had 28 saves on 29 shots against for an astounding .966 save percentage in the win, while Boston’s Tuukka Rask made 33 saves on 36 shots faced for a .917 SV% in 58:17 time on ice in the loss.

Ondrej Palat almost had a natural hat trick almost halfway through the first period as he scored a pair of goals to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead before the Bruins responded on the scoreboard.

But first, a breakdown of Boston’s defensive breakdown(s).

Palat (3) scored his first of the night just 1:47 into Game 3 after Anton Stralman sent a flip dump into the offensive zone off of Bruins defender, Matt Grzelcyk. The puck bounced off the blueliner, landed on Tyler Johnson’s stick, who promptly sent a quick pass over to Palat for the one-timer that beat Rask and made it 1-0, Tampa.

Johnson (2) and Stralman (2) had the assists on Palat’s first goal.

Less than two minutes later, Victor Hedman fired a shot from the point that was going wide until Palat (4) redirected it past Rask to give the Bolts a two-goal lead, 3:19 into the first period. Hedman (3) and Dan Girardi (1) had the assists on the goal.

Boston’s Riley Nash took an interference penalty just past the six-minute mark of the period and the Bruins killed off the minor with no major issues.

B’s defender, Charlie McAvoy, then roughed up Anthony Cirelli about four minutes after Riley Nash interfered with Cirelli, and was sent to the penalty box. Palat almost notched a natural hat trick on the ensuing power play, but Rask somehow reached behind himself and swatted the puck out of the crease with his stick.

Finally, as the Bruins got some zone time in the attacking zone, Stralman tripped up 21-year-old Boston forward, Jake DeBrusk, and gave the Bruins their first power play of the night at 13:43 of the first period.

It didn’t take long for the home team to take advantage of the man advantage as the Bruins converted on the power play with a goal from Patrice Bergeron (4) just 29 seconds into the advantage.

Bergeron found a rebound off Vasilevskiy while the Lightning goaltender was largely down and out of the play and fired one home to cut the lead in half and get Boston on the scoreboard, 2-1.

David Pastrnak (14) and Rick Nash (2) were credited with the assists at 14:12.

A couple of minutes later, Cirelli (1) scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal on a rebound given up by Rask while his fellow teammates gathered around and watched. The Bruins lackadaisical defense cost them another goal and Tampa’s mouth watered over a 3-1 lead.

Yanni Gourde (3) and Ryan McDonagh (5) had the assists on Cirelli’s goal at 16:43 of the first period.

After one period, the Lightning led, 3-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal (19-14). Tampa also had an advantage in takeaways (4-1) and giveaways (5-3), while Boston led in blocked shots (6-5) and hits (12-6). The Bolts were 0/2 on the power play and the Bruins were 1/1 after 20 minutes of play.

Torey Krug was guilty of holding Tampa’s Brayden Point, 11:58 into the second period, and the Lightning went on the power play. The Bolts were not able to convert on the advantage.

Late in the second period, David Backes charged Girardi, hitting him hard into the boards and sustaining a minor penalty as a result. Cedric Paquette worked his way in as the third-man in and swapped punches with Backes in the ensuing fisticuffs.

Backes racked up a minor for charging and a major for fighting, while Paquette got the ol’ 2 + 5 = 10 treatment (two minutes for instigating, five for fighting and a ten minute misconduct). The penalties came at 15:12 of the second period.

Less than a minute later, Brad Marchand slashed Stralman and would serve a minor penalty in the box.

Nikita Kucherov got away with a high-stick to Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara, and that was all the action that was written for the second period. Nobody scored, nobody converted on any power plays.

The Lightning were still in the lead, 3-1, after 40 minutes of play. Tampa had an advantage in shots on goal (30-22), blocked shots (13-11), takeaways (7-2) and giveaways (12-11), while Boston led in hits (21-14) and faceoff win percentage (51-49). The Bolts were 0/4 on the power play through two periods and the Bruins were still 1/1 from the first period.

A lackluster third period effort from both teams resulted in a decrease in overall offensive production as Boston continued to leave chances unfinished and the Lightning played keep away the rest of the time.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, pulled his goaltender for an extra skater with 2:50 remaining in regulation in an attempt to jumpstart his offense, but Rask would quickly find his way back to the crease after Krug tripped up Cirelli at 18:31 of the third period.

After clearing their own zone, Rask vacated the net once again for Boston, leaving them fully exposed on the penalty kill, as Steven Stamkos (2) capitalized on the empty net power play goal at 19:18.

J.T. Miller (4) and Hedman (4) had the assists on the goal that put the game out of reach, 4-1.

Marchand received a misconduct shortly after Stamkos scored his first goal of the series (presumably for mouthing off to the ref, though misconducts don’t have to be explained) and the final horn sounded from a subdued TD Garden crowd.

Tampa had secured the 4-1 win in Game 3 and now leads the series, 2-1, heading into Game 4.

Through 60 minutes of action, the Bolts dominated in shots on goal (37-29), blocked shots (19-12), giveaways (17-14) and faceoff win percentage (54-46). Boston led in hits (36-26) and was 1/1 on the night on the man advantage. The Lightning were 1/5 on the power play on Wednesday.

Puck drop in Game 4 is set for a little after 7:00 p.m. ET on Friday night in Boston. Viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN, while fans in Canada can tune to CBC or TVAS. Tampa looks to take a commanding 3-1 series lead with a win on Friday, heading home for Game 5 on Sunday.

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

Unknown-7Unknown-3

 

 

 

 

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

Unknown-7Unknown-3

 

 

 

 

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

Unknown-3New Jersey Devils Logo

 

 

 

 

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.

A (forked) Tale of 3 Periods: Devils drop Game 2 to Lightning, but can build on strong play.

 

Often times, hockey games can be looked at as stories. Three separate periods of play strung together as a single narrative, often carrying a common theme among them.

Then, there are games like this one. Games where each 20 minute segment is entirely its own, almost entirely unrelated to one another. In a way, Game 2 could be considered a short story compilation.

Chapter 1: The Slow Start

After dropping Game 1, the Devils and young goaltender Keith Kinkaid (who had not lost back-to-back starts since February) were hungry for redemption, knowing a win before heading back to home ice for Games 3 and 4 could swing momentum greatly in the underdogs’ favor.

With some bad blood boiling over at the end of the first contest, it wasn’t surprising to see the two teams again start their fourth lines, and it didn’t take long for the action to pick up, as Tampa’s Cedric Paquette and Jersey’s Stefan Noesen had a coming-together at the end of an energetic first shift. Unfortunately, the tensions stalled out as when the first set of line changes were made, one of the Lightning bench doors suffered a broken latch and play had to be halted for about five minutes for a repair. When play resumed, Dan Girardi (apparently not a fan of the tempered tone) laid a booming hit on Miles Wood around three minutes in to get the crowd back in it.

A few minutes later it would be Girardi’s former-turned-current teammate Ryan McDonagh firing a wrister in from the point that took a dramatic change of direction right in front of Kinkaid, who somehow managed to stretch out his left pad to deny J.T. Miller‘s bid, having had the deflected shot come right to his tape for a prime scoring opportunity.

This seemed to briefly turn things in the Devils’ favor, as they’d kill off a Tampa power play shortly after, and have two quality chances in quick succession. First it would be Taylor Hall taking a hail mary pass for a partial breakaway, then John Moore stepping up to intercept an attempted clear to walk in and make a strong backhanded bid on the following shift. Unfortunately for the Devils, Andrei Vasilevskiy was equal to the task on both occasions.

After the Vasilevskiy save on Moore, the puck would make it’s way to center ice, where Ondrej Palat would corral the bouncer in traffic and feed a quick pass to Brayden Point breaking in on the right wing. Point walked in and patiently waited for Kinkaid to go down in the butterfly before shelving a quick shot crossbar – left post – and in to put the Lightning on top 12:15 into the period.

Jersey would quickly turn things back in their favor though, first with a quality chance for Travis Zajac on an oddman rush with Blake Coleman. Coleman would take an extra whack at Vasilevskiy as he covered the puck, causing Victor Hedman to come over and have a few words with the young Devils forward.

On the next shift, just 1:23 after the Point goal, a dominant shift by the New Jersey top line would be capped off by Nico Hischier scoring his first career playoff goal, gathering up the rebound of a Damon Severson shot and burying it over top of a sprawled Vasilevskiy.

The two teams would grind out the final 6 minutes and head to the first intermission tied at 1-1. New Jersey limited Tampa to just six shots, firing 10 of their own at the Lightning goal.

Chapter 2: The Wheels On The Bus Are Falling Off

After going 1-for-1 in Game 1, the Tampa power play was held shotless on their only first period opportunity in this one. In the second period, however, they went off.

First it was a Steven Stamkos one-timer ripping just wide of the cage, bouncing off the end boards directly to the tape of Nikita Kucherov on the opposite wing, and #86 would quickly fire a pass to Alex Killorn waiting in the slot to tip home the 2-1 goal at 3:14, moving Tampa’s power play to two-for-three in the series.

The Bolts’ fourth line followed up the power play with a strong shift that would see Ryan Callahan ring a shot off the goalpost to Kinkaid’s right, narrowly missing the 3-1 goal. However on the next shift it would be the dominant second line making up for Callahan’s miss when Tyler Johnson slipped into the high slot to perfectly redirect a McDonagh point shot past Kinkaid at 4:35.

Hall would attempt to negate some momentum on the following shift, flying in and using a Tampa defender as a partial screen to rip a wicked wrister at Vasilevskiy, who flashed the left leg and stopped the puck with the toe of his skate, before having to cover up when the rebound careened dangerously off the stick of teammate Anton Stralman.

Hall’s efforts were rendered all-for-not when again on the very next shift it would be Kucherov dangling Sami Vatanen at the blueline, retrieving the puck and throwing it at the front of the net, where the chasing Vatanen would accidentally kick the puck past Kinkaid into his own net, putting the Lightning up 4-1 with 13:59 still to play in the second. Ironically, this goal did not count as a shot on net, giving the Bolts four goals on 10 shots.

The Lightning then turned their focus to physical play, first with Miller leveling Ben Lovejoy twice in a sub-10 second span, then Ondrej Palat throwing a big hit on Moore on the shift after.

With 6:48 to play in the second, Killorn would tally his second power play goal of the period (third goal in two games after scoring two in the final 15 of the regular season), again after a Kucherov feed, this time fighting off multiple checkers to lift it over a scrambling Kinkaid. John Hynes had seen enough and pulled his young netminder in favor of Cory Schneider.

Whether it was the Lightning slowing down, or the Devils being reignited by the goaltending change, it was at that coaching decision where the tide began to turn. The final six minutes and change saw Tampa held without another shot, as New Jersey began to pour it on.

Finally with just 25 seconds left, Vatanen would rip home a beautiful wrist shot from the high slot after leading the rush himself. It was a solid redemption shift for Vatanen, who made up for his earlier gaffe by leveling Callahan (who would not return to the game after the hit) to create the turnover that eventually led to his goal.

Outscored 3-1 in the period, New Jersey still managed to widen their advantage on the shot clock to 25-17 after their dominant final six minutes.

Chapter 3: Off The Schneid

The third period was all-out domination by New Jersey at both ends of the ice.

Early in the frame it was Schneider showing spectacular form (and likely laying claim to the starting job from here on out) by first stopping a beautiful tip play orchestrated by Stralman and executed by Kucherov, then making a pair of spectacular stops a few minutes later on a Chris Kunitz redirect and follow-up attempt by a driving Paquette.

Then it was basically an uninterrupted offensive assault by the Devils for the final 15 minutes.

Wood found a goalpost at one point, and lost the puck on a breakaway forehand-backhand move at another. Vasilevskiy made a handful of sparkling saves on a Jersey power play. Maroon and Hall linked up on a two-on-one that was denied, followed up shortly after by a great redirect from Pavel Zacha on a Will Butcher slap shot which was again gobbled up by the big Tampa netminder.

Zacha got another golden opportunity with 8:45 to play but was handcuffed by a cross-ice pass that had him staring at a yawning cage. Luckily for both him and his team, later in that same shift it would be Blake Coleman finally beating Vasilevskiy with a laser of a one-timer from the top of the left circle to make the score 5-3 with just over eight minutes remaining.

After the third goal the attack only strengthened for New Jersey. Hischier rang one off the post at the four minute mark, and Miles Wood thought he scored on the very next shift, but video review showed no conclusive evidence of the puck (tangled in the gear of Vasilevskiy) ever crossing the line.

Pat Maroon made a great save on a Stamkos bid for the open net right after Schneider made his way to the bench, keeping hope alive for the Devils, but they just couldn’t solved #88 in net.

Things got scrappy with nine seconds left when everyone piled on Taylor Hall after he took an aggressive charge at the net when Vasilevskiy stopped a Vatanen blast, and it took a few minutes to get things settled down before the final nine seconds could pass without incident.

So, to review:

A closely-contested, grind-it-out first period where both teams looked very evenly matched.

Tampa blows the doors open in the second until the goaltending change turns the momentum.

Schneider lays claim to his net and New Jersey shows that Tampa is very mortal in the third.

The Lightning may lead this series 2-0 on two multi-goal difference victories, but there’s much more to this story. If Schneider plays the way he did in this one, and the Devils can get a boost from their home crowd, they have a lot to build on after this game. This could definitely be a series to watch going forward.

For those wondering, Game 3 will be Monday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, and @kephartc will have our recap coverage for you.

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.