In a possible first round playoff preview, the New Jersey Devils beat the Tampa Bay Lighting 2-1. The Lightning played well but ultimately, Keith Kinkaid out dueled Andrei Vasilevskiy to earn the two points for the Devils.
The first period started well for the Lightning. They controlled the first half of the period gaining a 9-4 advantage in shots at one point. None of the shots were particularly threatening but they kept the Devils in the defensive zone and dictated the pace of play.
Around the mid-point of the period, the ice started to tilt back the other way. New Jersey upped the pressure. Their speed and skating put the Lightning on their heels and had them scrambling to recover.
The first goal came at the end of the period with rookie Nico Hischier scoring on a rebound in front of the Lightning net. On the play, the Bolts had positioning with Braydon Coburn matched one on one with Hischier. Coburn wasn’t able to affect the young center at all and the puck ended up in the net.
The goal was similar to one scored in the third period on Thursday by Anthony Beauvillier of the Islanders. Again, Coburn was unable to offer much deterrence directly in front of the net. After being one of the more reliable players in an injury plagued season last year, Coburn has struggled this year.
He looked destined for healthy scratches for the rest of the season after the trade for Ryan McDonagh put him 4th in the defensive depth chart on the left side. However, the coaching staff has suddenty shown a willingness to play Mikhail Sergachev on the right side, which opened up a spot on the left side. Coburn has gotten the nod the past two games but given how he continues to struggle, one has to wonder if someone else gets a crack at those minutes. Slater Koekkoek hasn’t been great this year but he might have more to offer than Coburn.
If the coaching staff is willing to split the McDonagh - Dan Girardi pairing, that could open the possibility of a McDonagh-Sergachev, Koekkoek-Girardi bottom four. Only a few games of evidence would tell us how that would work but it seems worth a try with Coburn adding so little to the lineup at this point.
The remainder of the period went the same way and ended with the Devils leading 1-0.
The second period was nearly identical to the first. Again, the two teams were close in shots. And again, the Devils got the most dangerous chances and were the only team to score a goal.
The goal came just past the halfway point of the period. Kyle Palmieri skated into a soft spot in the defensive zone and snapped a shot back across his body and past Andrei Vasilevskiy. No one was particularly to blame on this one. Maybe Brayden Point could’ve gotten out to Palmieri a little faster. Maybe Vasilevskiy could’ve read the shot a little better. But in reality, that’s just a good shot by Palmieri.
While the Lightning didn’t generate tons of chances, they did get a few. Nikita Kucherov created a breakaway for J.T. Miller with a beautiful stretch pass. Miller wasn’t able to finish. Later in the period, Kucherov got a breakaway for himself. The puck wouldn’t settle for him and he didn’t get a good shot off.
At the end of the period, the Lighting created some chaos in front of Kinkaid. Tyler Johnson had two good chances but couldn’t find the net on either. At the end of the period, the Lightning seemed to be headed in the right direction but still trailed 2-0.
The Lightning’s positive play carried over to the third and resulted in them drawing a penalty early in the period. For much of the power play, they seemed a little out of sync nearly missing on some passes that could have led to dangerous chances.
As the power play wound down, Brayden Point pulled up and surveyed the ice from the below the right faceoff dot. He fed a a pass back to Sergachev at the point. Sergachev fired a shot on Kinkaid who made the save but couldn’t control the rebound. Ondrej Palat picked up the loose puck and put it in the net for his first goal since returning from injury.
After the goal, the Bolts continued to push play. Kucherov showed some nifty stick work in the offensive zone and nearly created a chance for himself. Point one upped him a little later by getting all the way to the net and nearly tying the game.
With two minutes left, the Lightning created a flurry of chances starting with Ondrej Palat skating into the slot and firing a shot that was blocked. Point picked up the puck and passed to McDonagh down low. The net was gaping but the angle was just a little too tight as the shot hit the post instead of beating Kinkaid.
The Devils held on from there to get two key points in there hunt for the playoffs. With Florida losing to Arizona, they are now in good shape and are a likely first round playoff opponent for Tampa.
The next game for the Lightning will be on Monday at home against Arizona. That’s followed by a big game on Thursday in Boston. Dropping two points tonight hurts and makes the game in Boston even more important.