Time: 7:30 PM EDT
Location: Amalie Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: SUN, MS+2
Opponent SBNation Site: All About the Jersey
For the third time in eight days, the Tampa Bay Lighting will face a potential first round playoff opponent when they play the New Jersey Devils tonight. As of this morning, the Devils are the second most likely opponent for the Lightning in the first round according to hockeyviz.com. After games against the Bruins last Saturday and the Leafs on Tuesday, the Lightning should be familiar with the heightened intensity and atmosphere they’ll see tonight.
Much like the game against the Oilers last Sunday, this game will also feature two Hart Trophy candidates. Nikita Kucherov continues to be one of the favorites to win. For New Jersey, Taylor Hall has put up numbers that have him in the conversation. He seems to be more of a long shot candidate at this point, as it seems Kucherov and Nathan McKinnon have pulled away from the field.
Aside from Hall, the Devils also have one of the most exciting rookies in the league in 2017 first overall pick Nico Hischier. He hasn’t disappointed, putting up 48 points in 74 games, which is fifth among all rookies and first by a long way among 2017 draftees. It certainly seems like the Devils made the right choice after winning the lottery. Hischier should be an linchpin part of their future.
The Lightning enter this game coming off back-to-back bizarre wins. On Tuesday against the Leafs, they came back from a 3-0 deficit late in the second period to win the game 4-3. Then on Thursday, they beat the Islanders 7-6 after nearly blowing a 7-3 lead in the third period. In a way, both games are emblematic of how the Lightning have played recently: good enough to win but plagued by mistakes, particularly with their breakouts in the defensive zone.
The team will be looking to minimize the mistakes and not make it so hard on themselves against the Devils tonight. Winning is always great, but late comebacks and near collapses aren’t the most sustainable paths to victory. It’d be nice to see another game like Sunday against the Oilers where the Bolts looked good from the opening faceoff until the final whistle.
In terms of the matchup, the Devils don’t look like much on paper. They certainly don’t look like a team that would be this close to making the playoffs.
Their shot share and expected goal share numbers are both below average. Over the last ten games, both numbers are well into the “bad” section of the chart. Looking at their results, they don’t appear to be getting particularly lucky when it comes to shooting and goaltending. In all, they look to be a pretty average team trending downward.
But even that is a positive. They’re at least a year ahead of schedule, as most didn’t expect them to be competitive at all this year. Just being in the playoff race this late is an accomplishment. Seeing them not be the most boring team in the league for once must also be a welcome change to their fans.
The Lightning continue to play well in aggregate even while the moment-by-moment results on the ice are heart attack inducing. The glaring area of weakness lately is the penalty kill. That part of their game has fluctuated wildly this season, and it has been bad again lately.
Tonight offers another opportunity for the Lightning to measure themselves against a potential playoff opponent. These types of games are all part of the ramp up to the post season. The fans in New Jersey will be excited and will want to make the atmosphere as inhospitable as possible for the Lightning. That’s valuable experience for what’s to come in April and hopefully May.
The push for the playoffs continues tonight.
Tampa Bay Lightning
J.T. Miller - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Yanni Gourde
Chris Kunitz - Cedric Paquette - Adam Erne
Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev
Slater Koekkoek - Jake Dotchin
New Jersey Devils
Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Jesper Bratt
Michael Grabner - Pavel Zacha - Kyle Palmieri
Brian Gibbons - Travis Zajac - Drew Stafford
Patrick Maroon - Brian Boyle - Blake Coleman
Andy Greene - Sami Vatanen
John Moore - Damon Seversen
Will Butcher - Ben Lovejoy