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

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.

Cory Schneider continues to struggle after return from injury

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Most people in the hockey world were caught up in Taylor Hall‘s incredible 26-game point streak, which came to an end on Thursday night. But there’s another long streak that might make Devils fans a little nervous going forward.

Between mediocre play and injuries, it’s been a tough year for netminder Cory Schneider. The 31-year-old missed 16 games because of a groin injury between Jan. 25 and Feb. 27. He’s dropped all three decisions since returning, including a 3-2 loss to the Jets on Thursday night.

Schneider hasn’t come away with a victory since Dec. 27. He’s also dropped 10 consecutive decisions (0-8-2) since then.

“They deserve better from me. It’s not fair to my teammates to have other goalies come in here and outplay me on a regular basis lately,” Schneider told NJ.com after the loss to Winnipeg. “So it’s just not good enough by me by any means.

“They did about everything you could ask and deserved better. At least a point. It’s on me to dig deep and find a way to execute better and just be better all around for them. It’s not a fun feeling, but it’s not something you can wallow in or feel bad for yourself. There’s no time or energy for that. It’s about me putting my head down, working hard and just executing better. It’s as simple as that.”

Backup Keith Kinkaid has filled in admirably while Schneider’s been injured, but the Devils need their No. 1 goalie to play like he can if they want to make the playoffs. New Jersey is currently sitting in the first wild card slot, but Columbus, who is in the final playoff spot, is just one point behind them and the Panthers, who are on the outside looking in, are three points back with three games in hand.

Sure, injuries could be a reason for his sluggish play, but this is his second underwhelming season in a row. Schneider posted a 20-27-11 record with a 2.82 goals-against-average and a .908 save percentage in 2016-17. Even though the Devils were bad, they still expected more from their franchise goaltender.

This is a young hockey team that needs their goalie to find his game in a hurry. As positive as this season has been for them, narrowly missing out on the playoffs would be a huge disappointment after the year they’ve had.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Eichel hat trick, Schneider robbery, Gaborik’s 1,000th game

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Players of the Night: 

Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres: Eichel ended a four-game goal-less drought with some authority on Friday. After scoring in the first period, Eichel watched as his Sabres blew a 2-1 lead to trail 4-2 with 10 minutes to go. Eichel then turned on overdrive, scoring twice in 10 seconds to tie the game and force overtime. Sadly, his efforts were in vain as the Carolina Hurricanes got the winner 2:15 into the extra frame. It’s Eichel’s first career NHL hat trick.

Brian Boyle, New Jersey Devils: What an inspirational story Boyle has been this year. On Friday, Boyle scored twice, including the game winner, to bring his goal total to eight on the season. His second of the night was also his 100th of his career.

Highlights of the Night:

Eichel showed a good bit of patience on his hat trick goal:

Cory Schneider committed robbery on this save:

Sam Gagner scored on a pretty backhand deke to give the Vancouver Canucks the win in overtime, ending a four-game losing streak:

Factoid of the Night: 

MISC: 

Scores: 

Hurricanes 5, Sabres 4 (OT)

Devils 5, Stars 2

Rangers 4, Kings 2

Red Wings 3, Maple Leafs 1

Canucks 4, Sharks 3 (OT)


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