With the regular season over the Stanley Cup Playoffs are underway. New Jersey Devils vs. Tampa Bay Lightning will be an exciting and likely high scoring Eastern conference matchup. The wildcard Devils look to best the NHL powerhouse Lightning. The Lightning after leading the NHL for most of the season look to dominate the series. Both teams earned their way here despite very different roads to get here.
New Jersey Devils vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Offensive and Defensive Matchups
The lineups for both teams are star-studded. With some of the biggest names in the NHL on the two rosters. The Lighting has an edge in star power with Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Nikita Kucherov leading the Lighting into the playoffs. Not to be outdone the Devils Taylor Hall has been an incredible offensive presence this season.
Tampa Bay Lightning Offence
Stamkos was picked number one in 2008 and despite an extended injury during the 2016-17 season, he amassed points at an alarming rate. He has 334 goals and 668 points since he entered the league. For perspective, only Alex Ovechkin scored more goals during that stretch. Stamkos is the pure scorer that teams look to build around. The Lightning has done very well in building around him. After missing a few games at the end of the season Stamkos said that he will not be at full capacity. That said, look for him to play through the pain as much as he is able.
Even without Stamkos, the Lightning has a formidable offensive threat in Kucherov. Kucherov amassed 100 points in the regular season. This continues an upward points trend for the past four seasons. He can score from anywhere and is the third in the NHL with 39 goals and 61 assists to his credit. His 279 shots on goal highlight his ability to find and create scoring chances. Additionally, his assists often lead to a Stamkos goal. The two have a great ability to set the other up for scoring chances. This might serve to frustrate the Devils defence and goaltending. Watch for this combo to put up a lot of scoring.
New Jersey Devils Offence
The Devils have ridden on the back of Hall’s success throughout the season. His incredible 26 game point streak from January through the middle of March 2018 show that he can create and score. He also put up a nine-game point streak to end the season. He cemented his Hart trophy candidacy with those two point streaks and his ability to lead the Devils to the playoffs but is that enough to offset the star power of Kucherov and Stamkos? That remains to be seen and will certainly be fun to watch. Also look to rookies Nico Hischier and Will Butcher to work with Hall others to put pucks in the back of the net. The two rookies, Kyle Palmieri and Jesper Bratt round out the top five scorers on the Devils after Hall. Hall has nearly double the number of goals (39) to Hischier with (20). This highlights the reliance on Hall to score for the Devils. If the Devils are to contend they need to look to the others to pick up their games for the playoffs. Hopefully, the others can do so.
On the other side of the blue line for Tampa Bay sits Hedman. He is the defensive counterpart to Stamkos. The blue line is built around his ability on both sides of the puck. He is as adept at creating a breakout as he is at stopping a scoring chance. Look for him to do plenty of both.
For the Devils look to goalie Keith Kinkaid to continue his great form. He helped get this team into the playoffs. Kinkaid played in 41 games this year with a record of 26-10-3 and a .913 save percentage. He has arguably been the second star to Hall as the Devils ramped up to the make a run to the playoffs during the last half of the season.
Keys to the Series
Despite having gone 3-0 against the Lighting this season, the Devils have to play better to beat them this postseason. They are barely able to hang with the potent Lightning in 5v5 play. The Devils are a bottom ten team in that regard and the Lighting a top five. This means that power play and penalty kill units could be a deciding factor in this series. If not the Devils need to improve at 5v5.
The Lighting take the series in five games. The reliance on Hall and lack of experience for the Devils will hurt them in the long run. Even with a subpar Stamkos, the Lightning has more of what is needed to lead the NHL, win playoff games and possibly make into the final.
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