The Preds led 3-1, 4-2 and 5-3 and the Avs just kept coming, but in the end, they didn’t have enough gas to find an equalizer and head to Denver down 2-0 in the best-of-7 series. Kevin Fiala led the way for the Preds with a goal and an assist. Nathan MacKinnon scored his first goal of the series, so the Avs will be hoping that opens the floodgates in Game 3.
Lightning 5, Devils 3 (Lightning lead 2-0)
Nikita Kucherov had a goal and two assists and the Lightning put up five goals for the second time in the series. And while Kucherov had a good game, it’s the second line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson who kept doing the heavy lifting for Tampa. That line had four more points in Saturday’s game and now have 10 over the first two games as the series shifts to New Jersey,
Bruins 7, Maple Leafs 3 (Bruins lead 2-0)
You can read about the battering here. The TL;DR version: David Pastrnak gets a hat trick and records six points. Bruins notch four goals on their first seven shots, chase Frederik Andersen in the first period and cruised to their second dominant win. Toronto needs help. Fast.
Sharks 3, Ducks 2 (Sharks lead 2-0)
Tomas Hertl‘s first goal of the playoffs 1:11 into the second period stood as the game-winner as Sharks held onto a 3-2 lead in the third period, riding Martin Jones‘ 28 saves, including 11 in the final frame. Logan Couture had a goal and an assist in the win. Evander Kane had seven shots on goal and came close to rekindling the success he found in Game 1. John Gibson, despite the loss, made 32 saves and was vital in keeping the game close as the Sharks pressed in the third.
1. David Pastrnak, Bruins: I mean, the guy had a hat trick and a six-point night. In the playoffs. You don’t see that too often. Pastrnak was dominant against the Maple Leafs, who don’t appear to have the slightest of chances in this series based on the first two games. Pastrnak is very much responsible for that with his nine points in that span. His line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand is simply unstoppable with its 20 points. Good luck back at home, Toronto. You’re going to need it.
2. Nikita Kucherov, Lightning: Kucherov scored the game-winner and assisted on both of Alex Killorn‘s markers for a three-point night to help the Lightning to a 5-3 win and a 2-0 series lead on the Devils.
3. Logan Couture, Sharks: Couture announced his arrival in the Western Conference series against the Ducks with a goal and an assist, which proved important as the apple was on Hertl’s game-winner in the second period. The Sharks now get to head to the Shark Tank home having stolen two wins in SoCal. Advantage San Jose.
Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers, 3 p.m. ET (NBC)
Winnipeg Jets at Minnesota Wild, 7 p.m. ET (USA)
Columbus Blue Jackets at Washington Capitals,. 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN, NBCSWA)
Vegas Golden Knights at Los Angeles Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Even though they finished the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference and the third best record in the entire NHL there didn’t seem to be a ton of optimism surrounding the Tampa Bay Lightning entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs. At least compared to what you might expect from a top seed. A lot of that was probably due to the fact that they kind of backed into the playoffs with a 6-6-1 record to end the regular season.
After two games in their first-round series against the New Jersey Devils it is starting to look like any concern with this team may have been a little overstated.
None of it matters now.
With their 5-3 win on Saturday afternoon the Lightning have taken control of their first-round series and own a 2-0 series lead as it shifts to New Jersey for Monday night.
What had to be especially frustrating for the Devils is they didn’t really play a terrible game and, despite what the final score might tell you, did a lot of things well.
At times they were able to limit the number of chances the Lightning were able to generate.
Nico Hischier, their prized 19-year-old rookie, scored his first career playoff goal.
They were able to apply a little bit of pressure, especially in the third period, and create some chances on Andrei Vasilevskiy. Even if a lot of that may have simply been the result of the Lightning sitting back with a three-goal lead entering the period, New Jersey still didn’t go away without a fight and made things a little tense for home crowd.
But for all of the things they may have done well they just simply did not — and do not — have the talent to match up with what the Lightning have throughout their lineup, and that is going to be the problem going forward in this series. When the score was closer early in the game the Lightning were controlling the puck and scoring goals at will.
Trying to figure out how to match that depth and slow down what Tampa Bay has throughout its lineup almost seems impossible for the Devils at this point.
All year depth was a concern for this team.
One of the biggest arguments in support of Taylor Hall‘s MVP bid was that he finished the season with 41 more points than any other player on the roster and had a hand 38 percent of their goals. That is great for him and shows just how dominant he was offensively and how special his season was. It also speaks to the lack of depth the Devils’ lineup had beyond their top player.
Through the first two games of this series against Tampa Bay has already scored 10 goals with contributions from players all over the lineup. Not just the big guys at the top. Sure, Nikita Kucherov has four points already, but look at what the other lines and players are doing. Alex Killorn has three goals. The Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat line has already combined for four goals. The fourth line hasn’t provided any offense, but they have at least controlled the puck and kept the Devils off the board, which is probably the best you can hope for from the fourth line.
It’s a ridiculously balanced lineup and for as much pressure as the Devils were able to put on late on Saturday (starting when the game was already 5-1 on the scoreboard) they just don’t have the firepower to consistently match that.
The first thing the Devils have to do: Stay out of the penalty box. The Lightning had the second best power play unit in the NHL this season and it has already burned the Devils four times in this series. That can not continue.
Then there is the goaltending question.
Keith Kinkaid probably exceeded expectations this season when filling in for Cory Schneider and played exceptionally well during the stretch run of the regular season. He has struggled through the first two games and ended up getting pulled on Saturday after surrendering five goals on 15 shots.
Schneider only faced 10 shots in relief and stopped them all.
Even so, the fix for the Devils in this series probably isn’t as simple as a goaltending change, especially when Schneider has not been the same goalie over the past two years. Their best hope is to slow the pace of the game down as much as possible at 5-on-5, stop taking dumb penalties (like the Kyle Palmieri unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that resulted in another Tampa Bay power play goal), and hope that their second-third-and-fourth lines can keep things even long enough for Hall to take over when he gets on the ice.
If that seems like it’s asking a lot, that is because it is. That is just the talent gap that exists between these two teams.
For as much talk as there was down the stretch about the Lightning’s struggles, they still went 13-6-2 in their final 20 games. Sure, only seven of those wins came in regulation, but they still scored 73 goals and averaged 3.65 goals per game during that stretch. Even when they were “struggling” they were still lighting up the scoreboard unlike any other team in the league. They are still a force to be reckoned with. And even on a day where the Devils did a lot of good things and played reasonably well it still wasn’t enough.
That has to be frustrating. And concerning for where this series goes from here because it doesn’t seem like the Devils really have another level to go above what they did at times on Saturday. It still was not close to enough.
The Tampa Bay Lightning locked up a playoff spot before April even began, and the only real drama they faced boiled down to whether or not they’d win their division. The New Jersey Devils, meanwhile, scratched and clawed their way to their last game of the season.
Maybe that lack of urgency and Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s fatigue conspired to make the Bolts’ finish to 2017-18 a little less than inspiring? Tampa Bay went 5-4-1 in its last 10 games, as just one example, with Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov losing significant ground in their respective trophy races.
The Lightning still finished atop the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference, going 54-23-5 for 113 standings points. The Devils finished one point ahead of the Florida Panthers for the East’s final wild card, generating 97 standings points on a 44-29-9 record.
Even with a less-than-spectacular finish to the season, the Lightning are heavy favorites. Tampa Bay ranks among the biggest favorites of any team in the first round on account of its strengths and the Devils’ perceived weaknesses.
Beyond the momentum angle, the Devils might pin their hopes on sweeping the season series against the Lightning. They won once in a shootout and twice in regulation. Maybe New Jersey matches up well with Tampa Bay?
Let’s break this series down.
Lightning: It’s easy to look at the Lightning as just the one-two punch of a successfully returning Steven Stamkos (27 goals, 86 points) and Kucherov, who hit the 100-point mark for the first time in his wildly underrated career. The frightening part is that it’s not even just about them, nor J.T. Miller in Vladislav Namestnikov‘s old spot.
This series might clue in casual hockey fans that Brayden Point is a rising star. He scored 32 goals and 66 points this season, doing so in sometimes spectacular ways:
Yanni Gourde would also receive way more Calder Trophy buzz in a normal season, as he scored 25 goals and 64 points. The Lightning also have some other nice forwards, including Tyler Johnson (21 goals, 50 points), Alex Killorn, and Ondrej Palat. It should be noted that, while Palat only scored 35 points, he was limited to 56 games.
The biggest injury question revolves around Stamkos, who missed some late-season games. Will he be 100 percent either by Game 1 or merely sometime in this series?
Devils: It’s well-publicized but true: the drop off from Taylor Hall (93 points) to the second-best Devils scorer (Nico Hischier, 52 points) is drastic.
Hall deservedly gets Hart Trophy buzz, and he’s the single player who could will the Devils to upset victories against the Bolts in his first-ever visit to the postseason.
It’s unfair to say that he’s the only weapon for New Jersey. Despite being limited to 62 games, Kyle Palmieri continues to be an under-the-radar gem, scoring 24 goals and 44 points. Patrick Maroon has been a boon via the trade deadline, collecting 13 points in 17 games with the Devils. Michael Grabner‘s been quiet, but his speed and skill could be useful in a short series, especially with the motivation of a contract year hanging over his head.
Advantage: Lightning. Few teams possess the arsenal that Tampa Bay boasts.
Lightning:Victor Hedman may very well win the Norris Trophy this season. You can argue until your face turns blue over who deserves that nod, but he certainly earned the right to be in the discussion, generating 63 points in 77 games while playing great defense.
Mikhail Sergachev might be a work in progress, yet his offense is already formidable, as the rookie collected 40 points this season despite modest ice time (15:21 minutes per game). They can enjoy the best of both worlds as they protect him and then deploy him for scoring situations.
Ryan McDonagh is still adjusting to Tampa Bay. This is the time they got him for, as he could be a key piece in matchups. He’s joined by other former Rangers Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi, though the Lightning probably want to limit Girardi’s exposure (even after a relatively decent season).
Devils: New Jersey still looks weak on defense on paper, but credit the Devils with adding some talent in that area.
Sami Vatanen is developing into a workhorse for the Devils, averaging 22:44 per game while scoring 28 points in 57 games. Will Butcher has a ways to go in his own end, but he already generated 44 points in his first NHL season.
Lightning: Andrei Vasilevskiy may still be a Vezina finalist, and it’s easy to see why with a 44-17-3 record, .920 save percentage, and eight shutouts. He’s also proven himself in postseason play before, generating that same .920 save percentage in 12 career playoff appearances.
His recent play is the elephant in the room, as he admitted himself to fatigue late in 2017-18. Consider that he generated a brilliant .931 save percentage in 41 games before the All-Star break, only to slide to a bad-backup-level .902 save percentage in 24 games after the break.
Devils: With Cory Schneider seemingly at a career crisis, the Devils turned to Keith Kinkaid. Kinkaid proved unexpectedly sturdy for New Jersey, producing a four-game winning streak to help them lock down that playoff spot, and also generating a .913 save percentage over 41 appearances.
Advantage: Lightning, even though Vasilevskiy’s energy comes into question.
Lightning: The Bolts’ power play ranks among the NHL’s deadliest, boasting a 23.9-percent success rate on 66 power-play goals and just three shorthanded goals allowed. Their penalty kill struggled, however, with a PK% of just 76.1 percent, fourth-worst in the NHL (64 PPGA, nine shorthanded goals for).
Devils: New Jersey connected on 21.4 percent of its power plays, good for 54 PPG and six SHGA. They excelled on the PK, tying for seventh in the NHL by killing 81.8 percent of their penalties (47 power-play goals allowed, 12 shorthanded goals scored).
Advantage: Devils, as they mix a very nice power play with one of the better PK units, especially when you consider how dangerous they are with 12 shorthanded goals. That said, the Lightning’s power play is so dominant, it might make that balance irrelevant.
Lightning: Is Vasilevskiy going to be anywhere close to his best self or his tank truly empty? This Lightning team is balanced and dangerous at the top, but bad goaltending can submarine even the strongest teams.
Devils: Taylor Hall in his first playoff series. It’s a great story, and there’s a solid chance that he’ll be the best player on the ice. Could he be such a force that he tilts this series in New Jersey’s favor?
Lightning in five games. The Bolts possess the top-heavy talent to nullify Taylor Hall, and even if they lose that battle, they’re likely to dominate from a depth perspective. Vasilevskiy also gives them an advantage in net … at least on paper.
If you’re a Devils fan grumbling right now, consider this: New Jersey seems to thrive on defying the odds. Why not do it in the first round, too?
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been one of the premiere teams in the NHL for most of the season, but there’s no denying that they haven’t been as dominant of late.
Last night, the Bolts dropped a 4-1 decision, at home, to the Arizona Coyotes. The ‘Yotes have been playing some good hockey of late, but that’s still a tough result on home ice.
“We’re looking for our swagger back,” last night’s starter Louis Domingue said, per the Tampa Times. “We were making little plays. We were making a difference out there on the ice. That’s why won 51 games. I think we’re looking for us to get that back and, obviously, we’ve been struggling the last couple of weeks, but I’m not worried about anything. I think we’re going to find our way back soon.”
Yes, they were without Steven Stamkos (lower body) and Andrei Vasilevskiy was given the night off. Still, falling flat at Amalie Arena against one of the worst teams in the league has to make you a little concerned if you’re a fan of the Lightning (even if Domingue isn’t worried).
Let’s look back at their last few games, where they’ve gone 3-4-0 in their last seven. On Mar. 13, the Lightning dropped a 7-4 home decision to Ottawa. They followed that up by losing to Boston on home ice (3-0), but they beat the Oilers in Tampa (3-1). The Bolts managed to overcome a 3-0 deficit to beat the Maple Leafs 4-3 and despite beating the Islanders by just one goal (7-6), they held a 7-3 lead in the third frame of that contest. They then lost a 2-1 game in New Jersey before suffering that ugly loss to Arizona.
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
Giving up three goals or more in five of seven games is less than ideal. Even the high-flying Lightning will have a hard time winning games if they continue to give up as many goals as they have been lately. Vasilevskiy, who has a league high 42 victories in 2017-18, has also allowed at least three goals in seven of his last eight games and in nine of his last 11.
Obviously, that doesn’t just fall on their starting netminder’s shoulders. The team in front of him can stand to be better, too. Over their last six games, the Lightning have given up between 30 and 41 shots against.
On the offensive side of the puck, players like Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov have continued producing at a high level, but members of the supporting cast have struggled. Alex Killorn (one point in eight games), Brayden Point (five points in last nine games, but three came vs. NYI), Tyler Johnson (one point in seven games) and Yanni Gourde (no goals in last nine games, two goals in last 19) have all dried up offensively.
When you clinch a playoff spot, it’s normal to take your foot off the pedal a little bit, so this slump isn’t totally unexpected. But they have to realize that they’re still in the chase for the Atlantic Division crown. Their slide might force them to play an opening-round series against the Maple Leafs instead of the Devils. No disrespect to New Jersey, but they’re probably the better matchup over a seven-game series.
The next few days will be challenging for Tampa, as they’ll play back-to-back road games against the Bruins and Rangers on Thursday and Friday before hosting the Predators and Bruins early next week. They’ll close out the year with games against non-playoff teams in Buffalo and Carolina.
It should be an interesting end to the season for the Lightning.