Stanley Cup Playoffs: Tampa Bay Lightning kicks playoffs off in style with win over Devils

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Lightning kicked off the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs in style with a definitive victory over the New Jersey Devils.

The moment the Tampa Bay Lightning has been waiting for since October is finally upon us! Tonight, the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs officially kicked off for the Lightning and their fans. The journey has been a long one, but the only journey that matters at this point is the one that leads to Lord Stanley’s Cup.

The New Jersey Devils may have had the Lightning’s number throughout the regular season, defeating the Bolts in all three meetings during the 2017-18 season, but playoff hockey is a whole different animal. After missing the playoffs last season, the Lightning was ready to show the NHL just what they’ve been missing.

Things got off to a bit of a shaky start. Early on in the first period, Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev was nailed in the face with a blatant high stick right in front of the referee. As the Bolts Nation has come to expect, there was no call on the play despite Sergachev bleeding from his face.

Of course, with a referee like Gord Dwyer in town, who has pretty well-documented issues with the Tampa Bay Lightning, things like this should not come as much of a shock to those of us here in the Bolts Nation. All the fans can do at this point is to continue to cheer the team on and hope no one gets hurt on the ice.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning /

Tampa Bay Lightning

Speaking of people potentially getting hurt on the ice during the game, just a few minutes later Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman was seemingly targeted by Devils forward Miles Wood. The good news here in no one was injured in the encounter and the game went on without interruption.

The Lightning had some amazing scoring chances throughout the halfway point in the first period but simply hadn’t been able to pull the trigger. At least two of those chances came from the stick of Lightning forward Yanni Gourde.

Maybe it was first playoff jitters, maybe it was just bad luck. Either way, it would quickly become clear it was nothing more than a momentary lapse. We’ll come back to this one later.

It may have taken the Lightning 15 minutes to get the job done, but it would be the Bolts who would strike first in the first game of this playoff series between the Bolts and Devils. The honor of the first goal would be bestowed upon Lightning forward Ondrej Palat.

Judging by the precedent he set this season, Palat getting the first goal doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

There was one scary moment for Lightning fans towards the end of the first period. Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy attempted to play the puck. Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication between him and his teammates which almost resulted in a tying goal for the Devils. Thankfully, the crisis was averted.

With less than a minute left in the first 20 minutes of play, the Lightning would strike once again. This time, the goal would come from the stick of the one and only Tyler Johnson. The assists on the goal would go to Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point. This made two points for Palat in the first 20 minutes.

The intensity the Lightning displayed in the first period is the kind of play Bolts fans have come to expect from their team. This intensity seemed to die off a little as the Lightning made their way through the final few games of the regular season, but the playoffs are a whole different animal and tend to bring out the best in players.

Just five seconds into the second period, the Lightning would get their first crack with the man advantage as Miles Wood, who probably should’ve gotten a call in the first period, was sent to the sin bin for two minutes for Slashing against Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi.

Mere seconds were left on the penalty to Wood when the Lightning would strike for the third time. Bolts forward Yanni Gourde would get the first postseason goal of his career with assists from Palat and Sergachev. For those of you keeping count, this is three points already for Ondrej Palat.

It was only a matter of time before Gourde was able to put the puck in the back of the net. After two amazing chances in the first period, it was plain to see his time was coming. The old saying “persistence pays off” really rings true in this situation.

Much to the chagrin of the Bolts Nation, the Devils did manage to get one goal back in the final minutes of the second period. The shining star of the Devils lineup, Taylor Hall, would pick up his first postseason goal. Hall was unassisted on the play. Of course, this could very well be the tagline of his entire season.

The Devils made up a lot of ground in the second period when it came to shots on goal. The Lightning was outshot 15-7 in the second period for a two-period total of 26-20 in favor of the Devils. This is definitely a far cry from the 20 minutes of play.

There was no denying the Devils had momentum on their side heading into the third period. At 9:11 in the period, the Devils would get another crack at the man advantage as J.T. Miller was whistled for Slashing. This opened the door for Travis Zajac to capitalize on a rebound from Taylor Hall to bring this to a one-goal game.

Unfortunately for the Devils, the Lightning was not ready to let go of their lead and go quietly into this beautiful Florida evening. What happened next was an absolute thing of beauty.

Yanni Gourde was able to steal the puck and speed through the neutral zone towards the Devils net. Gourde seamlessly passed the puck back to Alex Killorn. Killer wasted little to no time in pulling back his stick and putting the puck on the net. Thankfully, said puck beat Devils netminder Keith Kinkaid and hit the back of the net to extend the Lightning’s lead to two goals once again.

The Devils attempted to gain the upper hand by pulling their goaltender in favor of getting an extra skater on the ice. Unfortunately for the Devils, this plan didn’t exactly pay off for them. The Triplets Trifecta would be completed as Nikita Kucherov hit the empty net to give the Bolts a 5-2 lead over the Devils.

23. 2. 85. Final. 5

It wasn’t long before the final seconds ticked off the clock and the horn sounded. When all was said and done, the Tampa Bay Lightning would defeat the New Jersey Devils for the first time this season and definitively claim Game One of this opening series.

Things got really chippy as the game came to a close. While it’s not incredibly clear as to what started the scuffle, it was pretty clear the Devils were frustrated with the position they found themselves in at the end of the evening. The Lightning needs to be careful not to allow this encounter to shift momentum heading into Game Two of the series.

There were a lot of positives in tonight’s victory. The first of which would be the players who were playing in their first-ever postseason game making such an impact in tonight’s game. The player making the biggest impact was Yanni Gourde, who had a tremendous game, bringing home a goal and an assist.

Another positive in tonight’s game was the Power Play. Ok, ok…the Lightning only had one real opportunity with the man advantage, but thanks to Gourde the Bolts were able to capitalize on this opportunity and extend their lead over the Devils. Needless to say, the goal was a sure-fire confidence booster.

One thing the Lightning seemed to struggle with tonight (and a good portion of the regular season) was the Penalty Kill. While things definitely could’ve been worse, they definitely could’ve been better. The Bolts went one for two on the Penalty Kill, giving up a Power Play Goal to Travis Zajac.

If the Lightning can’t manage to improve their penalty kill to some degree, there is a simple solution…stay out of the box. In all honesty, this is probably the best option for them. Even with an improved penalty kill, there is no reason to give an opponent an opportunity at this point in the season.

The good news here is at the end of the night; the Lightning finally solved the puzzle known as the New Jersey Devils and took the early lead in the opening series. If the Lightning wants to remain in this position, they are going to need to be just as diligent in Game Two as they were in Game One.

Next: Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup Playoffs Gift Guide

The Tampa Bay Lightning has tomorrow off, but Saturday afternoon it will be back to business as they make their way back into the Amalie Arena to take on the New Jersey Devils in Game Two. The puck is set to drop at 3:00 p.m. After tonight’s exciting victory, it’ll be interesting to see what the rest of the series has in store for the Bolts Nation.