Kucherov, Vasilevskiy shine as Lightning eliminate Devils in 5

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One’s up for the Hart as the NHL’s best player while the other is up for the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. Both combined their talents to eliminate the New Jersey Devils with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.

Nikita Kucherov was once again on point for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s matinee. Leading 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov scored a clutch goal — his fifth of the series — to put the Lightning from just inside the blue line to put the Bolts up two with seven minutes and change remaining.

It proved vital, Kucherov’s goal, as the Devils attempted a late comeback with Kyle Palmieri scored with three minutes remaining after Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra attacker 30 seconds earlier.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the final 180 seconds, stopping 26-of-27 to help usher the Lightning into the second round.

Tampa, the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, will face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who play later on Saturday in Game 5. The Bruins lead the series 3-1.

Kucherov was as immense for the Lightning as he was oppressive for the Devils, adding five assists to bring his series total to 10 points. His usual scoring touch was supplemented by his play in the physical department, including this bone-crushing hit on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For the Devils, it was hard-fought series from a young team still trying to find its way in the playoffs.

The Devils abandoned goalie Keith Kinkaid after dropping the first two games. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t won a game in 2018 before Game 3, came in and provided the spark in goal, one that seemed to get the Devils going at the other end of the rink as well as they rolled to a 5-3 win.

But that well ran dry in Game 4 as the Devils produced just one goal in a 3-1 loss. Game 5 was much the same, production-wise, with the Devils only managing one goal.

Fellow Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall provided two goals and six points in the series after a 93-point regular season. Rookie Nico Hischier managed just a goal after scoring 20 in his rookie campaign.

For Vasilevskiy, after looking far more human in the second half of the season, finding his mojo again can only be mean bad things for future playoff opponents.

The young Russian finished with a .941 save percentage in the series.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Seinfeld’s Puddy attends Devils game to ‘support the team’

NJ Devils on Twitter
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The man known affectionately as Puddy (aka actor Patrick Warburton) was in New Jersey last night trying to rile up the Devils prior to Game 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You’ll remember Puddy, the face-painted Devils fan from the hit TV show Seinfeld, for such lines as, ‘We’re the Devils… The Devils’ and ‘Don’t mess with the Devils. We can beat anybody.’

That’s pretty much it, but he didn’t need to say much else to become an instant cult classic among Devils fans.

Warburton resurrected the character on Wednesdat night, doing his best to get the Devils and their fans amped up prior to the game.

Unfortunately for New Jersey, the tactic didn’t pay off as the Lightning took a 3-1 series lead on the back of a 3-1 win.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Nikita Kucherov hit forces Sami Vatanen from game; worthy of suspension?

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Here we go again.

Another night in the Stanley Cup Playoffs produces another questionable hit that will certainly be debated.

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov crushed Sami Vatanen with a hit in the first period of Game 4 between the Lightning and New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night.

At game speed, the hit looked clean, with Kucherov making initial contact with Vatanen’s shoulder. But when slowed down, it sure looks like Kucherov’s shoulder made contact with the left side of Vatanen’s head.

The latter clutched his head before struggling to get back to his feet. He headed straight down the tunnel and did not return to the game.

Kucherov was not penalized on the play and finished the game with two goals, including the game-winner, and an assist as the Lightning took a 3-1 series lead with a 3-1 win.

The series shifts back to Tampa for Game 5 on Saturday.

Do you believe Kucherov deserves supplemental discipline for the hit? Or do you think the hit was clean?

Let it be known.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Cory Schneider posts first win in 2018 as Devils claw back into series

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After allowing 10 goals in the first two games to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the New Jersey Devils needed another look between the pipes.

Enter an old friend.

Cory Schneider‘s season can best be summed up as forgettable.

His less than stellar 2016-17 campaign tagged along into the current season and Schneider eventually lost his starting role to Keith Kinkaid. Schneider missed the whole month of February due to a groin injury and before Monday, hadn’t won a start since Dec. 27, 2017, a span of 12 starts without a W.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

But after Keith Kinkaid was pulled 33 minutes into a 5-3 defeat on Saturday, Schneider settled in and stopped all 10 shots he faced in relief. With the Devils needing a spark after falling down 2-0 in the series as it was shifting back to Jersey, Schneider was given his chance to assume to the reigns he previously held.

Some timely extra saves were helpful — Schneider made 34 of them — as the Devils tightened up defensively in 5-2 win to pull themselves back into the series, which sits at 2-1 in favor of the Lightning.

Taylor Hall helped out on offense, scoring his second of the playoffs and adding two assists in the win.

The Devils also got a boost with the return of Marcus Johansson, who missed 37 games with a concussion after an elbow from Brad Marchand.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Devils turn back to Cory Schneider to salvage series vs. Lightning

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The New Jersey Devils are facing the prospect of falling behind 3-0 in the opening round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday night. In an attempt to shake what’s ailed them through two games, head coach John Hynes is making changes for Game 3 (CNBC, 7:30 p.m ET, stream here).

Most notably, Cory Schneider will get the start after watching Game 1 and coming in relief of Keith Kinkaid during Game 2 on Saturday afternoon’s 5-3 loss. Marcus Johansson, who was skating on a line with Pavel Zacha and Patrick Maroon during Monday’s morning skate, will also return to the lineup for the first time since suffering a concussion on Jan. 23.

“We believe we have two very good goaltenders,” Hynes said. “Keith had played extremely well, and we’re not taking Keith out really because he was bad, we have two guys that we feel can both help us win and it’s an opportunity to get Cory back in the net. He came in and played pretty well the other night, which was good to see, so we’ll give him an opportunity here at home.”

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Schneider had a subpar regular season that saw him miss over a month with a groin injury and struggle mightily when he returned. Kinkaid was given the opportunity to start and snatched the No. 1 job away, helping get the Devils to the playoffs. Monday night’s start will only Schneider’s sixth since March 1, but he feels the 24 minutes he played in Game 2 was good for him heading into tonight.

“It helps. It always helps,” Schneider said. “Just getting out on the ice, that was a great opportunity for me to go in, make some saves and show that I’m feeling good about myself. It doesnt mean much if you come out and don’t play well. Hopefully I can parlay that into a good start tonight.”

Tampa has 10 goals from six different players through two games, so why that will be a problem for Schneider and the Devils, they also have to figure out how to capitalize on their chances having out-shot the Lightning 54-47 at even strength so far.

Meanwhile, in other goalie matters, Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz has made up his mind on who will start Game 3 Tuesday in Columbus, but he hasn’t informed his players yet. All signs point to Braden Holtby getting the call yet again after Philipp Grubauer allowed eight goals on 41 shots as the Blue Jackets hold a 2-0 series lead.

More: What can Devils do to slow down Lightning offense?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.