Stanley Cup Playoffs: Tampa Bay Lightning advances to next round with 3-1 victory over Devils

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

The Tampa Bay Lightning is headed to the next round as they close out their First Round series with a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils.

The Tampa Bay Lightning had a lot on the line today. Coming into today’s matinee game, the Lightning led the New Jersey Devils 3-1 in the Opening Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. This means a victory over the Devils tonight, in front of their hometown crowd, would mean the Bolts advance to the next round.

As the old saying goes, “desperate times call for desperate measures.” Pushed to the brink of elimination, desperate is the perfect term to describe the mindset of the New Jersey Devils. If they had any hopes of salvaging their postseason aspirations, they would have to leave everything out on the Amalie Arena ice.

The Lightning came out of the tunnel and hit the ice with intensity. You could immediately tell they came into this game ready to shut things down. In the early moments of the game, Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh laid a huge hit on Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy.

It was rather apparent this hit excited Lightning fans as well as the players on the ice.

The Lightning has a tremendous scoring chance in the first part of the period. While Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was busy making a big hit behind the net, forward J.T. Miller was working hard trying to put the puck in the back of the net. Unfortunately, the puck went just wide of the net.

It took a little over eight minutes for the moment to come, but it would be the Lightning who would strike first. Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev would pick up his first postseason goal with the assist from Anthony Cirelli to give the Bolts the early lead.

Of course, no storyline transcends from good to great without a little bit of drama. After Sergachev scored his goal, the NBC camera crew immediately turned their attention to Devils forward Brian Boyle to get his reaction. Needless to say, he wasn’t incredibly amused at Sergy’s success.

The Lightning would need to keep the pressure on the Devils if they wanted to remain successful. Devils netminder Cory Schneider has not had the most successful season and certainly has a lot to prove in the postseason. The Bolts would have to rattle him early if they wanted to keep him off his game.

The Devils would show a bit of fight in the final minutes of the first period. They would definitely put a lot of pressure on Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasy would come up big and keep the Lightning out in front when the buzzer sounded to end the first.

The Lightning opened up the second period with a strong surge against the Devils. The Bolts outshot the Devils 5-0 in the first two minutes of the 2nd period. Little did the Lightning know, this would be just the beginning of what would be one interesting period of hockey.

The Bolts would get not one, not two, not even three, but four opportunities with the man advantage during the second period. The first would come at 5:05 when Devils forward Pavel Zacha would get whistled for Holding against Lightning forward Ondrej Palat.

A mere five seconds after the Zacha penalty came to a close, the Lightning would be headed right back to the Power Play as the Devils would receive a bench minor for Too Many Men on the Ice. This is definitely not the kind of completely avoidable penalty a team on the brink of elimination needs to be making.

Just over two minutes after the conclusion of the bench minor, the Lightning would head to their third Power Play. This time, it would be Devils forward Kyle Palmieri would get a one-way ticket to the sin bin for Tripping against Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli.

No sooner than the penalty to Palmieri would expire, the Devils would get whistled once again. Devils defenseman Damon Severson would get the whistle for Holding against Lightning forward Brayden Point.

Things went from high-powered to ludicrous speed for the Devils at this point. The one and only thing preventing this game from being a 5-0 wrecking at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning was the stellar play of Cory Schneider. Schneider was in total beast mode while the rest of his team had seemingly taken a vacation.

The only Devils player to honestly earn his salary during the second period, with the exception of Cory Schneider, is forward Blake Coleman. Coleman had two short-handed breakaways during the Devils extensive Penalty Kill time. Thankfully, the Lightning defense (namely Victor Hedman) had something to say about this.

The Lightning has definitely made some progress in the physicality department. This could be attributed in large part to alternate captain Ryan Callahan rejoining the lineup after missing two games with an Upper-Body Injury. Callahan laid a huge hit on Devils defenseman Mirco Mueller in the second.

As the second period came to a close, the Lightning would be awarded their fifth-straight Power Play opportunity as Devils defenseman Andy Greene would get whistled for Cross Checking against Victor Hedman. This means the Lightning would keep momentum on their side heading into the third.

While the scoresheet may not reflect as much, the Tampa Bay Lightning absolutely dominated the second period of play. Thanks to the insane amount of Power Play opportunities the Devils gave up in the second, the Lightning was able to outshoot the Devils 18-4 in the second for a two-period total of 28-15 in favor of the Bolts.

The Lightning hit the ice in the third period ready to close the series down. Nikita Kucherov had an excellent scoring chance early in the Power Play, but the resounding ding of the crossbar left the entire Bolts Nation disappointed.

Just under seven minutes into the period, Lightning forward Tyler Johnson would get what would turn out to be one of many quality scoring chances, but would ultimately be turned away by Cory Schneider. Regrettably, this seemed to be the theme of the party tonight for Johnson.

Nikita Kucherov would create another excellent scoring opportunity for himself after seizing control of the puck from Severson at the blueline but found himself unable to connect. Understandably, this was starting to get frustrating for the Bolts Nation, who was desperately searching for the coveted “insurance goal.”

Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning /

Tampa Bay Lightning

At 9:02 in the third period, the Devils would get their first Power Play opportunity of the game as Anthony Cirelli would get summoned to the sin bin for High Sticking against Coleman. The good news is the Lightning penalty kill was able to hold strong and keep the Devils out of the back of the net.

Unfortunately for the Devils, the same cannot be said for the Tampa Bay Lightning. At 12:27 in the third, Nikita Kucherov would pick up his fifth goal of the postseason to extend the Lightning’s lead to 2-0 over the Devils. Assists on the goal would go to defenseman Anton Stralman and captain Steven Stamkos.

At this point, the Devils could feel their season slowly coming to an end. With over 3:30 seconds left in the third period, the Devils pulled goaltender Cory Schneider in favor of getting an extra skater on the ice.

Initially, this would pay off for the Devils. There were three minutes left in the third when Devils forward Patrick Maroon would pick up his first and only goal of the postseason to put the Devils within one.

The Devils would put a stop to the Lightning’s momentum by using their timeout with 1:35 left in the game. This would bring Schneider back between the pipes until the Devils could clear the zone and create a safe environment for Schneider to make his way back to the bench.

Once again, the Devils elected to pull Schneider once again to get an extra skater on the ice. It may have worked in their favor the first time, but it certainly didn’t pay off the second time around. This time, Ryan Callahan would hit the empty net to once again give the Lightning a two-goal lead over the Devils.

Callahan’s goal put an end to what felt like the longest minute and a half ever. As the sound of the buzzer resonated throughout the Amalie Arena, the New Jersey Devils postseason aspirations would come to an end and the Tampa Bay Lightning would officially advance to the next round.

The Three Stars of the Game were:

⭐️ Andrei Vasilevskiy

⭐️⭐️ Cory Schneider

⭐️⭐️⭐️ Nikita Kucherov

Now, under normal circumstances, we are not exactly supportive of opponents being in the Three Stars of the Game; especially one the Lightning emerges victorious in. However, in this particular situation, we can make an exception. Cory Schneider is the only reason this game wasn’t a much bigger deficit for the Devils and robbed star forwards like Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson on more than one occasion.

Overall, this has been an exciting series. The Lightning has controlled much of the series, but this doesn’t mean the Devils didn’t make the Bolts work for their wins. The Devils had the Lightning’s number throughout the regular season, but the Bolts found the answer in the postseason.

The Tampa Bay Lightning will have a couple of days off before having to face their next challenge. The Bolts will take on the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Right now, the Bruins lead the series 3-1.

In just a couple of hours, the Bruins and Maple Leafs will take the ice for Game Five. A Bruins victory would spell the end of the season for the Maple Leafs. A Maple Leafs victory would force a Game Six on Monday at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Both teams will be an exciting series for Bolts fans. Admittedly, the Bruins would provide a much more physical series. The good news is, the Lightning seems to have become accustomed to a more physical style of play thanks to the antics of the New Jersey Devils.

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Either way, all eyes in the Bolts Nation will be glued to their televisions tonight to see which team will ultimately be their next opponent. For now, Lightning fans can keep the celebration moving as a storm makes its timely arrival here in Tampa Bay.