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Lightning overwhelm Devils early in 5-2 victory

Another four goal opening period helped push the Lightning toward victory.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For the fifth straight game, the Lightning scored first. For the fourth straight game, the Lightning scored multiple goals in the opening period. For the second straight game, the Lightning scored four goals in the opening period. Tampa Bay has clearly found it’s groove in the first period over the last batch of games and it’s allowed them to win four out of their last five games. The Tampa Bay Lightning used that four goal first period to overwhelm the New Jersey Devils en route to a 5-2 victory on a rare Sunday night game.

The early moments of the first period saw the Devils apply a fair amount of pressure on the Lightning defense. Tampa Bay’s defenders weathered this early pressure by cycling the puck around the defensive zone to open up a passing lane up the ice. No pair did this better than Ryan McDonagh and Eric Cernak. These two repeatedly negated New Jersey’s forecheck pressure by simply rimming the puck around the boards to another Lightning player, or by simply outwaiting/outmuscling the opposing forechecker.

Thanks to this method of countering New Jersey, Tampa Bay struck first.

Look how at how this play starts. In the middle of the defensive zone with a forward swinging behind the New Jersey high forechecker. Girardi has three options available here; pass it to Victor Hedman to his left, pass it to Alex Killorn who will be cutting behind the Devils forward, or pass it to Mathieu Joseph who is racing up the right wing. Options are never a bad thing, and none of them are bad in this situation.

Girardi feeds it to Killorn who promptly dumps it into the offensive zone where Joseph is free to race in and cause chaos. Look at the defender who turns away from Joseph, that was the only player who could’ve slowed him down in this instance. Letting Joseph fly in like that is what ultimately led to this goal.

Cory Schneider has no idea Joseph is coming until he loses the puck to him. Killorn retrieves it and fires it on net once he gets the chance. The puck banks off Schneider’s pad and into the net to give Tampa Bay the 1-0 lead. Sometimes you need bounces to go your way, and Killorn was definitely due for one. That was his third goal on the season.

An interesting play that ultimately led to the second goal was a big hit from Nikita Kucherov on Egor Yakovlev. The hit happened behind New Jersey’s net and was rather awkward. Kucherov lined Yakovlev up for a hit and launched himself toward the Devils’ defender. At the same time Yakovlev knelt down as if he was going to duck the hit. Kucherov hit Yakovlev high on the shoulder and fell on top of him as a result.

Sami Vatanen had a few words with Kucherov as play exited the Devils zone, but it wasn’t until Brian Boyle stepped on the ice that any kind of retaliation was made. Boyle shadowed Kucherov for a few seconds before a loose puck gave him the opportunity to get physical against him. It ended up being called as a cross checking penalty and 1:06 later Kucherov made them pay.

No real need to break this down. Nobody even bothers to cover Brayden Point here. This was far too easy for Kucherov to take advantage of.

Tampa Bay wasted little time to extend their lead even more once Tyler Johnson decided to get in on the action just 1:54 later.

I’m just gonna leave this here.

Yep, not much else to say on this one.

New Jersey would respond 24 seconds later.

Jon Cooper did challenge this goal for goaltender interference, but the NHL’s situation room confirmed the goal.

Here is press release from the NHL discussing the coach’s challenge.

At 9:39 of the first period in the Devils/Lightning game, Tampa Bay requested a Coach’s Challenge to review whether New Jersey’s Brian Boyle interfered with Louis Domingue prior to Stefan Noesen’ goal.

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Referee, the Situation Room confirmed no goaltender interference infractions occurred before the puck crossed the goal line.

Therefore, the original call stands - good goal New Jersey Devils.

Since the Coach’s Challenge did not result in the original call being overturned, the Tampa Bay Lightning forfeit their time-out.

Yes, this isn’t an explanation, but this is what the league provided. I’m assuming that since Louis Domingue was out of the crease that the contact was legal. Domingue did make the initial save after Brian Boyle made contact with him, but the contact forced him well out of position to have any chance of stopping Stefan Noesen on the rebound. Regardless, 3-1 Tampa Bay.

The Lightning continued their offensive assault as noted goal scorer Cedric Paquette got one past Schneider 1:46 later to regain the three goal lead.

Give Girardi credit here, his shot was a shot-pass that was intended for Paquette but was deflected a few times. Paquette simply got to the puck quicker and surprised Schneider with the shot. This was Girardi’s 200th career assist.

Tampa Bay had the shot quality on their side in the first period, but possession was firmly in New Jersey’s hands. The Devils controlled 70% of the shot attempts at 5v5 during the opening period and led in scoring chances. However, their quality of chances were far below what Tampa Bay’s were and it showed with the Lightning capitalizing on their in close chances and the Devils failing to.

The second period saw Tampa Bay control 64% of the shot attempts at 5v5 and largely negate any dangerous opportunities the Devils did manage to generate. Most notably, Ryan McDonagh simply shoved Kyle Palmieri off a puck during a partial breakaway and sent the puck right back up the ice for a Lightning scoring chance.

Oddly enough though, the next goal for Tampa Bay was scored by a Devil.

I feel bad for Vatanen here. He’s just trying to clear the puck toward the side boards and he completely buries it in his own net. Great job by Point to keep the puck alive before Vatanen swipes at it, but whoof...that’s an ugly look for New Jersey there.

Late in the period, Steven Stamkos headed to the locker room after a cross check caught him while shooting the puck.

Stamkos did return in the third, but this just looks like an awkward hit. There was no penalty on the play (I didn’t think there should’ve been), but I initially thought he fell on his shoulder awkwardly. Cooper mentioned during the post game presser that he took the cross check between his pads. I’ve taken a few of those and they aren’t ticklish, that’s for damn sure.

The third period saw score effects take over as New Jersey controlled 65% of the shot attempts and managed to get another one past Louis Domingue.

Sometimes, you get beat by a good shot. This was Jesper Bratt’s first goal of the season as well.

Tampa Bay didn’t completely turtle in the final period, but they did play a safer game to close it out. All three defensive pairings forced New Jersey to the perimeter and the forwards gave support where needed. There was a beautiful passing sequence with Anthony Cirelli, Killorn, and Joseph that could’ve made it 6-2, but Schneider made a spectacular save on Joseph’s shot.

Compared to the Chicago game two nights ago where Tampa Bay pounced in the first and then held on for the last two periods, this was a much better overall performance. The first Devils goal could be debated, but there was very little to dislike about this evening’s performance.

The Good

Cirelli, Killorn, and Joseph

The big story is how dominant Kucherov, Johnson, and Point have been over the last several games, but I’m going to give a shout out to the third line this evening. This line got the offensive train going and they repeatedly pinned New Jersey in the offensive zone time and time again. Defensively, they were given the job to shut down the Travis Zajac line, which had Taylor Hall on it after the first period, and they did just that. Hall did register five shots on goal, but none of them would qualify as high danger.

There’s plenty of love for Cirelli and Joseph, but not much for Killorn. Mainly due to his contract and streaky goal scoring. Folks, Killorn has always been a streaky goal scorer and he still consistently scores in the 40 point range. His contract isn’t an albatross (though it is two years too long for my taste), and he provides a big body on that line that enables Cirelli and Joseph to fly around and wreak havoc. Give some love to the Harvard man, for once.

Louis Domingue

Personally, I wasn’t high on Domingue when Tampa Bay acquired him, but the man is growing on me. He has looked like a completely different goaltender for this homestand. Confident, precise in his movements, tracking the puck well, and controlling his rebounds far better than he was when Andrei Vasilevskiy first went down due to injury. If this is the Domingue we’re going to consistently get until Vasilevskiy returns then we’ll be in good hands.

The Bad

I got nothing, folks.

The Whatever

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