Stanley Cup Playoffs: Tampa Bay Lightning fight hard for Game Four victory over Devils

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Lightning has pushed the New Jersey Devils to the brink of elimination as they defeated the Devils 3-1 in Game Four.

The Tampa Bay Lightning has been pretty solid throughout the first couple games of the postseason, delivering the New Jersey Devils a 5-2 defeat in Game One and a 5-3 defeat in Game Two. Unfortunately, the Lightning seemed to falter a bit in Game Three and was unceremoniously handed a 5-2 defeat by the Devils.

Tonight, the Lightning had an opportunity to get back on track and pick up where they left off in Game Two and continue their winning ways. The biggest question here is whether or not the Bolts would be able to put the Game Three breakdown out of their minds and focus on the task at hand.

It became apparent rather quickly the Tampa Bay Lightning came into Game Three ready to play. The Lightning was aggressive with the puck and spent quite a bit of time in the offensive zone throughout the first half of the First Period.

The Lightning was awarded the first Power Play of the game just 34 seconds into the first period as Devils forward Taylor Hall was whistled for Hooking against Lightning forward Brayden Point. While the Bolts would continue to put pressure on the Devils, they were unable to capitalize on the man advantage.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has kept an eye on the opening round series between the Lightning and Devils that the tensions are running at a constant high. Things came to a boiling point rather early in the game with both teams asserting their dominance in the form of pushing and shoving.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning /

Tampa Bay Lightning

It wouldn’t be long before the Lightning would end up on the other side of the man advantage. Alex Killorn would get the call to the sin bin for Hooking against Devils forward Marcus Johansson. The Lightning Penalty Kill probably could’ve held strong here, but it seems the forces of darkness were working against them.

Moments into the Killorn penalty, Lightning forward Cedric Paquette would also receive an invitation to the penalty box for Tripping against Taylor Hall. The 5-on-3 would open the door for the Devils to pick up the first goal of the game. Devils forward Kyle Palmieri beat Andrei Vasilevskiy to give the Devils a 1-0 lead.

The good news here is the Lightning was able to stop the Devils from extending their lead by killing off the remaining penalty to Paquette. Now, the Bolts would have to fight to get back into the game.

Thanks to a tremendous pass from Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov, J.T. Miller would pick up his first goal of the postseason to tie things up for the Bolts. Now, as the period entered its second half, the Lightning would have to keep the pressure on if they wanted to retake the lead from the Devils.

The Lightning almost had a 2-1 lead over the Devils thanks to a goal from Lightning forward Cory Conacher. The operative word here is almost. A simple mistake cost the Lightning what could’ve been a huge moment in the first period. Cedric Paquette was a split second late clearing the zone so the play was considered offside.

This is the second time Cedric Paquette cost the Bolts big in the first 20 minutes of play. If he continues to play this way throughout the remainder of the game, he may very well find himself one of the dreaded “healthy scratches” in Game Five back in Tampa on Saturday.

Despite the negativity leading up to this point, there was a very bright light at the end of the tunnel. With just under five minutes left in the first period, Nikita Kucherov would give the Lightning the 2-1 lead they were looking for earlier in the period. This time there was no offside and the goal would stick.

Things would go from bad to worse for the Devils as the period wound down. Kucherov would deliver a hell of a hit to Devils defenseman Sami Vatanen. Vatanen would quickly make his way back to his skates but would skate right to the bench and immediately walked down the tunnel to the locker room.

Despite what many Devils fans seem to think, there was nothing dirty about the hit. There was no head contact as some believed, rather, your run of the mill shoulder-to-shoulder (and some chest) hit. Granted, we never want to see any player get injured, but there was nothing penalty-worthy about the hit.

The penalties kept coming in the final minutes of the first period. This time, it would be Alex Killorn who would be sent to the penalty box for Boarding against Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy. This started quite a scrum along the boards. Both teams were pretty heated by this point and it was definitely playing out on the ice.

It wouldn’t be long before the Devils would find another way to incense Bolts fans. Nikita Kucherov was taken down along the boards by former Lightning forward Brian Boyle. Boyle, along with one of his teammates, waited for Kucherov to make his way back to his feet before pushing and shoving him.

The Lightning didn’t take too kindly to Boyle’s childish move against one of his former teammates. Much like the play before, another huge scrum ensues. It was clear at this point it was going to be a very long night for the referees tasked with keeping this game in check.

We think our friendly neighborhood Spideybolt said it best. “You either die a hero, or live long enough…” You know where this one is going. While some Lightning fans still hold the highest respect for Brian Boyle, who definitely gave everything he had while he was in a Bolts jersey, he is quickly becoming a villain to others.

The Lightning would finish off the first 20 minutes of play on the Power Play. Miles Wood and Blake Coleman would head to the box for two minutes each for Roughing. Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman would join them in the box, earning two minutes for himself for the same offense.

When you look at things on paper, it would seem as if the Devils controlled the first period. The Lightning was outshot 12-13 and was dominated 33-67 in the Faceoff Circle. While the Lightning would manage to come out on top on the scoreboard, these two areas were definitely something the Bolts would need to work on moving forward.

When these two teams hit the ice for the second period, the Lightning would attempt to make the most of what was left on their Power Play from the First Period. Unfortunately, the Devils were able to kill off the penalty and emerge mostly unscathed.

The Devils fans were on fire for most of the night, but there was a moment in the early part of the second period which left the Devils fans in the Prudential Center relatively silent. Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn would deliver a hard check to Coleman, sending him head over heels into the Devils bench.

This had to be one of the best saves Keith Kinkaid has made the entire series.

The Lightning would definitely keep the pressure on the Devils rolling through the halfway point in the Second Period. Unfortunately for the Lightning, penalties would continue to control the pace of the game. The Lightning would end up with a Power Play as Hall was sent off for Tripping against Stralman.

Unfortunately, before the Hall penalty would come to a close, the Lightning would end up with a penalty as Kucherov would get whistled for Holding against Palmieri. This would essentially curb the Lightning’s momentum and put it in the hands of the Devils.

Much like the first 20 minutes of play, the Lightning would end the Second Period on the Power Play as Devils forward Stefan Noesen would get whistled for a High Stick against Brayden Point. If the Bolts play their cards right, they could start off the period strong by extending their lead over the Devils.

The Lightning definitely shifted their momentum during the Second Period. In stark contrast to the First Period, the Lightning outshot the Devils 12-5 in the second. Unfortunately, the Devils continued to dominate the Faceoff Circle, going 38-63 over the Bolts.

The Lightning would need to leave everything they had out on the ice in the third period if they wanted to bring home a victory over the Devils and extend their series lead. The Devils are a desperate team willing to do just about everything to save their postseason. The best thing the Bolts could do going into the third would be to play their own game and not buy into any more of the Devils mind games.

When these two teams would hit the ice for the Third Period, the Lightning would have a moment with the man advantage. They were able to fire off a couple of quality shots, but when all was said and done, the Devils would manage to kill off the penalty and return to full strength.

The Devils would get yet another chance with the man advantage around the halfway point in the third. J.T. Miller would attempt to stop Taylor Hall as he sped towards the Lightning net, but his efforts would get him whistled for two minutes for Slashing. This is one of those damned if you do, damned if you don’t situations.

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On the bright side, thanks to the heroics of Andrei Vasilevskiy and the ability of Alex Killorn to clear the zone with an amazing interception, the Lightning were able to kill off the penalty and return to full strength. Surprisingly, the Lightning penalty kill has been rather strong.

The Lightning would get another crack at the man advantage at 12:52 in the Third Period as Andy Greene would be sent to the sin bin for Tripping against Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. Funny enough, Greene seemed slightly surprised by the call. It is what it is, though.

Sadly, the Devils would manage to kill the penalty and remain mostly unscathed. While it may not have seemed like it at this point, there was still plenty of hockey left to play. Hockey is one of those sports where mere seconds can change the entire course of a game.

The Tampa Bay Lightning was able to relieve a lot of pressure in the final two minutes of the game. The Devils would pull goaltender Cory Schneider in order to get an extra skater on the ice. Unfortunately for them, this strategy bit them in the end as Nikita Kucherov was able to hit the empty net and extend the Bolts lead to two.

The Devils would do what they could to try and get back in the game, but it would ultimately be too little, too late. The Tampa Bay Lightning would defeat the New Jersey Devils 3-1 and push the Devils to the brink of elimination with the series headed back to the Sunshine State.

The ball is officially in the court of the Lightning. They have everything they need in order to close out this series at home. One thing they will have to do is stop making the little mistakes. These almost always lead to an unnecessary penalty and throw momentum to the side of the Devils.

Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper has some interesting decisions to make going into Game Five. With the way Cedric Paquette has played in the last three periods of hockey, it’ll be interesting to see if his spot in the lineup is still intact on Saturday.

There is no denying this series has escalated to a whole new level. The physicality from both sides of the ice has increased exponentially as the series has pushed forward. Now that the Devils are holding on for dear life, things are only going to get worse. The Lightning needs to stay strong and not get pulled into any unnecessary penalties which could swing the course of the series.

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As we mentioned previously, the series is now headed back here to the Sunshine State. The Tampa Bay Lightning will return to the Amalie Arena on Saturday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. for Game Five. The Lightning will definitely need their Thunder as they attempt to close this series out. It’s now on you, Bolts Nation, to help guide the Lightning to victory.