With Cory Schneider getting his first start of the playoffs, the New Jersey Devils were looking to put forth a better effort than the previous two games in this series. They did just that and they got a great performance from the veteran netminder as they managed to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-2 (the game was far closer than that score indicates—two EN goals)
Ryan Callahan was pulled from the line-up due to his injury from Game 2. Cory Conacher took his spot in the lineup. Once the puck dropped, both teams played at a frenetic pace. New Jersey noticeably came out with much more aggression than the previous two games, but Tampa Bay did a great job keeping most of their offensive zone time to the outside (where they aren’t as dangerous).
An early penalty to J.T. Miller gave the Devils their first opportunity to seize control of the game, however, it was the Lightning penalty kill that stepped up and neutralized the man advantage. An inconsistent penalty kill that had been Tampa Bay’s Achilles heel during the regular season has been an effective unit in this series, and it couldn’t have come at a better time (the Devils have a strong power-play).
Tampa Bay had their chances as the period progressed, but they seemed more content to force New Jersey into mistakes rather than over committing in any area. Unfortunately, the Schneider that was in net remembered that he was a good goalie (and not the one that was a sieve during the regular season) and whenever the Lightning did get pressure in the Devils zone he shut everything down.
The Lightning did not play poorly, their only real mistake was allowing a Taylor Hall breakaway (that beat Vasilevskiy, but hit the post), but they clearly focused on limiting New Jersey’s ability to enter the slot. They did this exceptionally and with a late power-play heading into the second all the Lightning had to do was continue to play how they had and the results would come.
Results would come indeed as Tampa Bay’s power-play struck once again as Nikita Kucherov victimized the Devils over aggression in the defensive zone by setting up Alex Killorn for his fourth goal of the playoffs. With Miller taking on a one-on-two by entering the offensive zone he chipped the puck behind the Devils net. Stamkos was waiting along the left boards for it and as three Devils spent their time puck watching (and not actually paying attention to the players in white jerseys), the captain threw the puck around the boards where Nikita Kucherov recovered it. Kucherov immediately threw a pass to the slot where Killorn was waiting (and completely uncovered). Killorn did what Killorn does best as he tapped it past Schneider to give Tampa Bay the lead just 42 seconds into the period.
All was good for the Lightning for the first 10 minutes of the second period. They scored on the man advantage, they killed another penalty, their forecheck was, again, causing problems for the Devils, and New Jersey was struggling to find an answer. Unfortunately, an ugly attribute that has plagued Tampa Bay before reared its head on a power-play midway through the period. The Lightning proceeded to make one to many passes while on the man advantage and passed up a few shooting opportunities to make the “pretty” play and it bit them, badly. The Devils had three shorthanded chances during that man advantage and none of them were due to their pressure—they were all due to Tampa Bay’s poor passing and decision making.
This occurrence gave New Jersey all the momentum they needed as the Devils pushed the Lightning back into their defensive zone and started to create havoc. After a few shifts generating pressure the Devils finally got a bounce to go their way as the puck caromed away from four different players near Vasilevskiy (two Devils and two Lightning) and into the high slot. Hall was there, waiting for it, and he hammered it past Vasilevskiy to tie the game at one. At this point, New Jersey had all the momentum. Tampa Bay continued to turn the puck over in all three zones and struggled to generate any consistent offensive pressure. Fortunately, a small surge late in the period gave the Lightning a power-play to close out the second. Tampa Bay had the advantage going into the third, all they had to do was convert on it.
Steven Stamkos, who, up to this point, had an up and down game, stepped up 38 seconds into the third and sniped one past Schenider to make it 2-1 after Kucherov again made a nifty pass to set up the play. Stamkos was wide open for the chance and it was good to see him finally get one. The Lightning had the lead, now they just had to play smart and limit New Jersey’s chances.
sigh Cedric Paquette was penalized for tripping (and really this was just an absolutely stupid penalty for him to take) shortly after Stamkos’ goal, and during the ensuing kill Killorn and Yanni Gourde had some miscommunication at the bench which led to Tampa Bay being penalized for too many men.
New Jersey went to work on the 5-on-3 and converted after Will Butcher fired a rocket from the point that got past Vasilevskiy (he never saw the shot thanks to the screen in front of him). Boom 2-2, and the great start to the period was nullified.
Tampa Bay’s best chance in the third came during a scramble in front of New Jersey’s net after Ryan McDonagh was denied on a partial breakaway by Schneider. Three different shots were thrown at the Devils net and none of them made it through as Tampa Bay fumbled away their chances.
As the third progressed New Jersey smelled blood and continued to attack Tampa Bay. The Lightning looked flustered and continued to make poor decisions with the puck. It came back to bite them as Hall (the only dangerous player the Devils have) set up a one-timer chance for Stefan Noesen who blasted it past Vasilevskiy to give the Devils their first lead of the series. That was Taylor Hall’s third point of the game. After doing a strong job limiting his impact in Tampa, they allowed New Jersey’s most dangerous player to control this game. Tampa Bay never recovered.
A controversial penalty on Mikhail Sergachev followed later in the period as Blake Coleman literally turned into Sergachev’s elbow. Sergachev was penalized for a hit to the head even though it was Coleman who initiated contact. Additionally, why wasn’t Coleman removed from the game to make sure he was actually cognizant? Isn’t that the protocol for incidents like that call for? Coleman definitely sold the hit and writhed on the ice clutching his head and was out on the ice looking just fine minutes later. I have no issue with Coleman selling the hit, I have an issue with the supposed “concussion spotters” at these games not pulling him for at least a few minutes to make sure he was actually OK. Regardless, Tampa Bay killed the penalty, and with a little over two minutes left they were rewarded with a late power-play to try and tie the game.
They squandered it as New Jersey scored two empty net goals to secure a 5-2 win.
Tampa Bay lost this game more due to their own failings than anything else. This game turned during that poor power-play and the Devils took over from there. This series was never going to be a sweep (I said it’d be a Lightning victory in 6). So, let’s all take a deep breath and move on to game four.
The Lightning are the better team, but they weren’t tonight.
Their only blemish was that 5-on-3. Aside from that, the penalty kill was strong this evening. They were still a little too passive at times, but when they were aggressive on the puck carrier they forced mistakes and turnovers; that is what they have to do to succeed. They forced the Devils to the outside and did a good job clearing the slot (again, aside from the 5-on-3). If the Lightning penalty kill can keep up this kind of play, then the Lightning should be feeling pretty good about this unit moving forward.
When New Jersey was pressing at multiple junctures in this game it was Vasilevskiy who kept Tampa Bay in it. The only goal you can kind of say he didn’t do well on was the go-ahead goal for Noesen. Vasilevskiy looked to be a little slow as he came across, however, that chance should’ve never happened if Tampa Bay hadn’t of turned the puck over prior to that chance.
Getting too fancy
The top line of Miller-Stamkos-Kucherov is by far the most talented line in this series, however, they’ve had varying degrees of success in this series thus far. When they’re clicking they smother the Devils and skate circles around them, however, far too often, in this game and the series, they’ve gotten too pass happy. I understand wanting to get the perfect scoring opportunity, but just make one or two passes then fire it on net. This is the playoffs; put the puck on net and crash it.
This line’s over-reliance on being too pretty at times cost them in this game. It gifted New Jersey three shorthanded chances and from there New Jersey took that momentum and ran with it. Tampa Bay never had full control after that. They had surges here and there, but overall New Jersey took over and never let it go.
Tampa Bay’s top line needs to simplify their game moving forward and push the Devils back because the depth scoring did not arrive tonight (the Zajac line did a great job limiting the Point line).
You all know me. I don’t complain about the officiating. I’ve literally written about it in only one other recap. However, there were some absolutely brutal calls in this game that were almost exclusively on Tampa Bay(except Paquette’s, that was just a f****** dumb play by him). Meanwhile, there are Lightning players behind held and tripped without a single blink from the referees. This only serves to infuriate things even more when Sergachev was penalized for a hit to the head. I’m not disputing that Coleman’s head was hit, it most definitely was, but I fail to see how this was Segachev’s fault.
How a player can be penalized when a guy literally turns into him while crouching is beyond me. I’m serious, go watch the play. Sergachev isn’t even paying attention and Coleman just turns around into him. How in the hell is that Sergachev’s fault? How?
Also, like I mentioned earlier, once a player gets a hit to the head aren’t they supposed to go to the quiet room and be evaluated? Because shortly afterward Coleman was back on the ice looking just fine. So, either he embellished like hell to get the call or the Devils organization completely ignored protocol. That entire situation just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Let’s hear it, folks!