The Lightning entered tonight’s game looking to continue their early season winning streak. The Devils’ have been a much better team early in this season than they were a year ago. They’ve embraced a faster paced style under head coach John Hynes led by a number of young talented forwards including number two overall pick Nico Hischier. That change showed as the Devils claimed a shootout victory despite Nikita Kucherov becoming just the second player to score goals in the first seven games of a season in the last 30 years.
History made. ☑️— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) October 18, 2017
Kucherov joins Mario Lemieux as the only two players in the last 30 years to score in each of their first 7GP. #GoBolts
The first period saw both teams with plenty of room to skate and make plays, which is quite a change from what we’ve come to expect from a game against the Devils during most of their recent history. As weird as it sounds to say, the Devils are fun to watch.
New Jersey opened the scoring on a goal by Drew Stafford. Peter Budaj misplayed a harmless shot and it ended up in the back of the net. This was Budaj’s first start of the season and the first period was not a particularly good one for him as he let in three goals. Only the first one could really be blamed on him but it still wasn’t the start he would have liked.
The Lightning scored the next two goals in succession to take the lead. The first was a pretty combination play as Nikita Kucherov slid a pass through the Devils defense to Vladislav Namestnikov who beat Cory Schneider with a slick backhand forehand move lifting the puck over the New Jersey goaltender’s back shoulder. Shortly after, the Bolts added another goal on another quick passing combination. This time on the power play, Mikhail Sergachev found Tyler Johnson who one touched the puck to Ondrej Palat in the slot for the go-ahead goal.
The Devils responded with a power play goal of their own on a great shot by Kyle Palmieri and then took the lead on a Brian Gibbons goal after the puck bounced strangely off the end boards back in front of the net.
The second period had less goals than the first but no less chances. Neither team seemed deterred by the helter skelter pace of the first and both came out attacking at every opportunity. Both goaltenders made some excellent saves with Budaj more than atoning for the somewhat questionable first goal of the game.
Typically, when games hit this level of fun, coaches try to reel in their players and slow it down to play a safer more predictable style. Through the first forty minutes, either the coaches were resisting that urge or the players just weren’t listening. The neutral zone was open, passing lanes were available, and both teams took full advantage.
Even with all the open play, the scoreboard didn’t change until the end of the period. Nikita Kucherov scored for the seventh straight game on another wicked shot. This time, he beat Schneider on a slapper from the left side.
Quickly following that goal and near the end of the period, the Lightning scored to re-take the lead. Steven Stamkos finished the chance with some good hands around the net. But much of the credit for the goal should go to Yanni Gourde who beat two Devils on the forecheck below the net and turned nothing into a clean chance for Stamkos.
The third period finally saw the end of the game of chicken between the two teams. The Lightning clearly changed their approach focusing on trying to protect their one-goal lead instead of adding to it. It almost worked. For most of the period, they minimized the Devils chances. They didn’t create many of their own either but they seemed relatively in control.
But after a penalty on Andrej Sustr, the Devils tied the game on a power play goal by Drew Stafford - his second goal of the night. Tampa tried to kick back into attack mode. They drew a penalty of their own with just under two minutes left in the game but couldn’t convert despite applying some good pressure. The second power play unit did a particularly good job led by Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde combining on the right side of the ice to create some openings.
The power play carried over by a few seconds into overtime, which led to most of the period being played at four on four instead of three on three. With under a minute left, the Lightning drew another penalty. But 47 seconds proved to not be enough time to claim the win as the Devils survived the penalty.
In the shootout, both goalies saved the first two chances. For Tampa, neither Brayden Point or Nikita Kucherov could beat Cory Schneider. Kyle Palmieri got one past Budaj in the third round of the shootout. Ryan Callahan wasn’t able to answer for the Lightning and the Devils claimed the two points.
Blowing a lead late is always a rough way to lose but one point in the second half of a road back to back with the backup goalie in net is an acceptable result. Especially against a Devils team that has been playing well to start the season.
If the Lightning had kept up the pressure in the third instead of trying slow the game, who knows what might have happened. Instead, they’ll head to Columbus on Thursday with their winning streak snapped at four games.