After his team fell behind by two goals through two period, Victor Hedman grabbed the lead in the third for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and they never looked back as they defeated the New Jersey Devils 6-3 Tuesday evening.
Patrick Maroon, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nikita Kucherov, as well as Hedman each had a goal and an assist for Tampa Bay (32-11-6). Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn notched a goal each. Dawson Mercer led with a goal and two helpers for New Jersey (15-23-5). Jack Hughes and Yegor Sharangovich added a goal and an assist for the home team. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 29 saves for the Lightning, while Jon Gillies stopped 22 for the Devils.
A hard back and forth between the two clubs featured few shots on net, but plenty of end-to-end action eventually led to the first goals. Ryan McDonagh said before the game about Erik Cernak’s return that the big blueliner was “going to come out firing on all cylinders”.
On paper, Mercer had the Devils on the board first with help from Hughes. Lightning defenceman Cernak fumbled the puck for an own goal skating toward Vasilevskiy. Pressure and a quick stick from the young Devils 2019 first overall pick (Hughes), helped the puck squeak behind the Bolts goaltender. Next time McDonagh will have to be more specific as to which net his backend linemate would fire upon.
Maroon tied the game at one goal a piece on the next shift. The Lightning’s hard work paid off, when Bellemare poked the puck in front of the net which Maroon completed.
The opening period continued with attacks from both clubs.
Late in the first, while on the power play, Sharangovich wristed the puck by the 2021 Conn Smythe winner to give the Devils the 2-1 lead. After Tomas Tatar fired the puck on net, the rebound found it’s way to Yegor to capitalize.
“We get on the forecheck, they turn it over, we get opportunities,” said the Big Rig(Maroon) about how the Lightning have to play the remaining two periods “we gotta stop playing east west, and (play) more north south.”
Early in the second frame, Hughes finished on the backhand after following up on his own initial attempt, Devils 3-1. Lightning’s Cal Foote lost a puck battle to Mercer at his own blueline, and he found Hughes open close to the net.
That would be the high point of the night for the Devils. Off a smooth offensive face-off win, Kucherov found the Lightning captain in the slot to snipe it by a partially screened Gillies, to pull them within one goal.
The Bolts continued the attack with another goal to tie it up at three. Mikhael Sergachev spun at the point around his defender to release a well-placed shot which Killorn redirected.
“We had some line changes. We kept things simple, and we got rewarded there at the end,” said Killorn about the flip of the light switch in the final minutes of the second period.
On a shift late in the middle frame Kucherov dangled around a couple of Devils to find himself for a scoring opportunity but chose to attempt a pass instead of shooting.
Tampa Bay grabbed the lead for the first time in the final regulation period. Hedman released a one-time bomb from the point past the Devils netminder. Corey Perry’s tenacity and pass to the point enabled the Norris winner to unwind a bullet of a shot.
“We were very off in the first period. When they scored the third one we started playing our game,” said Hedman after the match about the comeback.
Kucherov found himself behind the Devils defense with enough time and space to wrist a shot over Gillies left pad for the Bolts to lead by two. A terrific set-up by Brayden Point from within Bolts zone got Kucherov the biscuit.
Gilles was removed from the Devils net after he let a Maroon shot slip by for an easy empty net goal by Bellemare (Corey Perry’s initial shot skimmed along the goal line - so close to goall 400 for The Worm). Down 6-3, Nico Dawes replaced the starter in the game.
Nathan Bastian and Cernak got into a tussle after some aggressive play in front the benches. Referees gave each a fighting major, and Mason Geersten a ten-minute misconduct after he threw a punch at Maroon.
Tempers flared up again after Marian Studenic fell into Vasilevskiy. Studenic drove to the net with back pressure from Cal Foote. Out of the kerfuffle in front, Sergahev and Damon Severson had an exciting tilt. Foote picked up an extra penalty on the play, but New Jersey wasn’t able to capitalize.
Stars: Victor Hedman, Patrick Maroon, Corey Perry
Rocks: Erik Cernak, Mathieu Joseph, Ross Colton
Notes: Erik Cernak returned back to the lineup after missing the last nine games with a lower-body injury. Cernak is first-cousins with Devils Christian Jaros (on his father’s side). Victor Hedman hit the 50 point mark in the game for the season. Ross Colton played in his NHL game in his home state of New Jersey. Dawson Mercer had his first three point performance in the NHL.