The Tampa Bay Lightning are a very young team, whose success this season has been a bit of a surprise after another sojourn to the Eastern Conference basement a season ago.
The New Jersey Devils will try to will battle the Bolts -- and time itself -- for a little longer as they fight to scratch their way into the playoff picture with less than 15 games remaining on the schedule.
It goes much deeper than merely the highest-profile players too. Steven Stamkos and Jaromir Jagr are emblematic of each team's current construction, sure. But that's not where it stops. According to NHL Numbers, the New Jersey Devils are the oldest team in the NHL. The Tampa Bay Lightning are the 12th youngest and have routinely iced a line-up this season with nearly as many rookies as veterans.
The reality of the situation is that a young, rested Lightning squad is facing a tired, old Devils squad in what, on paper at least, should be considered a gift from the NHL schedule makers. The Devils played the role of "old, slow team that can't close out games" to a tee last night in Sunrise, jumping out to a 3-1 lead over the Florida Panthers with goals from veterans Jaromir Jagr, Bryce Salvador, and Patrik Elias (combined age: 117 years old) before fading and losing 5-3 after giving up four consecutive goals.
The Cats of course had just played the night before, a 5-4 loss in Tampa to the Lightning.
The Devils currently sit with 71 points through 67 games, just two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the final wild card spot in the East; but the Flyers have two games in hand. Meanwhile, the Bolts will look to draw closer to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who at 80 points are three ahead of the Lightning (77 points) but with two more games played than the Bolts.
Add goaltender Martin Brodeur to that aforementioned wizened trio and you have a quadrumvirate of key players for the Devils that will face the Bolts tonight who combined (158 years) are nearly as old as the eight rookies the Lightning will likely dress (181 years). Brodeur's decline this season has been precipitious -- his .901 save percentage on the season is 6th worst in the NHL for qualifying goalies.
Make no mistake -- this is an opportunity for the Lightning at home to secure points against a team that will not be icing it's best lineup and will not be 100% rested like the Lightning will be. While it is certainly not a "must-win" it is very firmly a "should-win"; but that opens the door to the type of complacency and lack of effort that can lead to unexpected losses.
Ben Bishop will oppose Brodeur in net for the Bolts. The rest of the lineup appears to be the same as Thursday's 5-4 win vs. the Panthers.
If this truly is Jaromir Jagr's farewell tour of the NHL, this could very well be the last time he visits Tampa Bay in his 20-season career.He recently scored his 700th goal, moving him into 7th all-time on the NHL goal-scoring list. He has 75 points in 65 career games against the Lightning.
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