Not only did the Tampa Bay Lightning even their record on the road with a convincing 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils, they did it by outscoring the Devils 3-0 in the second period. The middle frame has been a bit of a dead zone for the Bolts over the last month or so, but goals in that period from Brandon Hagel, Alex Killorn, and Nikita Kucherov built a lead that they would not surrender.
Damon Severson had opened the scoring for the Devils in the first period, but his 6th goal of the season would be the only one of 23 New Jersey shots that would get past Andrei Vasilevskiy. Anthony Cirelli matched the tally with a shorthanded goal late in the first, becoming only the second Lightning player (Steven Stamkos is the other) to score shorthanded goals in back-to-back games. Vitek Vanecek was victimized by a smooth backhander from Tony Two Goals. On the night Vanecek stopped 26 of 30.
Tampa Bay was without Steven Stamkos, scratched from the game with a lower-body injury, and Zach Bogosian. Cirelli, who had left the last game early, obviously returned to the game. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare also returned to the line-up after missing a few games with an undisclosed injury,
It was a decent start for the Lightning (aided by a couple of early icing calls by the Devils) as they were able to build a little zone time. While they were able to challenge Vanecek with a few shots, they weren’t able to follow up on the rebounds. As the period continued some sloppy play sapped their momentum.
New Jersey tallied the first goal and it was on a nice play by the Devils. Timo Meier was able to get a clean shot on Vasilevskiy that the goaltender steered to his left. Alas, Damon Severson was standing right there and put it into the net. Vasy was probably a bit surprised that a defenseman was just kind of hanging out there by the side of the net.
Damon Severson (Timo Meier, Jack Hughes) 1-0 Devils
From there, things kind of degenerated a bit for the Bolts. They struggled with clean breakouts and turnovers. One of them was right to Nico Hischier, who fired one straight into the goaltenders glove.
A couple of posts and an overturned goal kept the Devils’ lead to just one. Both Dougie Hamilton and John Merino rang the iron while it looked like Ryan Graves had doubled the lead as he somehow wristed a shot through a bunch of bodies and into the net.
The somehow was because Tomas Tatar was backed into the goaltender by Brayden Point. Sure, Tatar was pushed, but he avoided contact with as much vigor as a five-year-old asked to clean their room.
need some GRAVYYY?!!— Devils on MSG (@DevilsMSGN) March 14, 2023
devs lead 2-0 pic.twitter.com/Jbp2hR4RjC
While the goal was overturned, things continued rather roughly for the Lightning as Ian Cole went to the penalty box for hooking Jack Hughes. Although, maybe shorthanded is where the Lightning (and Anthony Cirelli) want to be.
Anthony Cirelli (Brandon Hagel, Erik Cernak) Shorthanded, 1-1
All credit to Hagel for getting to a loose puck and booking it down the ice, outskating Hughes in the process. The backhand pass was a little off, but a delicate first touch by Cirelli allowed him to put it on his backhand and he roofed it into the net.
Kucherov earned a power play shortly after, but not much happened with the extra skater.
The period started with the Lightning squandering the last 20 seconds of their power play, but they rebounded with a strong penalty kill after Victor Hedman was booked for an infraction following a turnover in the defensive zone.
Tampa Bay then settled into one of those patented stretches this season where they go eight or nine minutes without a shot on goal. They were chasing the puck a bit, but Vasilevskiy did his thing.
Halfway through the period Brandon Hagel found himself on another two-on-one, this time with Nikita Kucherov. Hagel really, really, really wanted to pass the puck to Kucherov, but there was no lane. So Hagel shot it and it went in. It’s always nice when that happens.
Brandon Hagel (Mikhail Sergachev) 2-1 Lightning
It was a really interesting period for the Lightning as they weren’t really generating a ton of chances. Midway through the period they had a total of 4 shot attempts at 5v5, with one shot on goal (Hagel’s goal). However, they weren’t conceding much either. So that was nice.
The game was at the point where it felt like the next goal would be key. If the Lightning could open a two-goal lead, the pressure would be on New Jersey. If the Devils scored, they would have the momentum. Enter, Brandon Hagel.
Hagel worked hard for the puck again, dropped a pass back to Alex Killorn and The Harvard Man wristed it past Vanecek on the short side. Not sure why the Devils gave him all of the room in the world to creep in and pick his spot, but we’ll take it.
Alex Killorn (Brandon Hagel) 3-1 Lightning
The Lightning weren’t really generating a ton of chances. This wasn’t a game where they were piling up the expected goals and shot attempts. They were, however, efficiently converting the chances they did get. With the clock dwindling on the period, Kucherov brought the puck in the zone (just ahead of Brayden Point), dished it off to Pointer, got it back and then shiftily beat Vanecek with 0.8 seconds on the clock. An absolute backbreaker for the Devils.
Nikita Kucherov (Brayden Point, Ian Cole) 4-1 Lightning
The mission for the third period was simple - lock it down. Get the puck in deep, hammer the Devils with a forecheck and force them to work the entire length of the ice to get any offense going.
A power play helped shed some time off of the clock early in the period. Point hooked one wide and Kucherov drilled the post (Lightning still trailed 3-1 in that category) but at least two minutes went by the wayside.
Tampa Bay kept bleeding the clock out with a nice mixture of solid defensive play mixed in with some offensive rushes. Ross Colton and Corey Perry almost pulled off a two-on-one goal, but Vanecek was able to glove Perry’s shot from in close. Later in the period, it looked like Perry had a slam-dunk goal, but Vanecek would rob him again. Looks like The Worm is back to being a bit snakebit.
Timo Meier tried to elicit a little momentum by throwing his weight around. While a big check along the boards did send Erik Cernak to the locker room (he returned for his next shift), it didn’t generate much in the way of offense.
There would be no third-period collapse in this one as the Lightning saved their best period for the third period. Sure, they didn’t add to their lead, but they spent most of the period forcing New Jersey to chase the puck. This was more like the style of play we were used to seeing from the Lightning.
There was one possible shade of trouble as Nikita Kucherov didn’t see the ice for the last six or so minutes after he stumbled awkwardly reaching for a puck. It’s possible that he just had a skate issue and with the game comfortable in hand Coach Cooper decided to give him a bit of a rest, but with the Lightning a little banged up already it’s something to keep an eye on.
The two teams will take a day off and meet once again in Prudential Arena for a rematch on Thursday. Expect a little more of a push from the Devils.