Saturday afternoon the Tampa Bay Lightning put the final nail in the New Jersey Devils hopes of making it out of the first round. The offensive threats of the NHL best record Lightning proved to be too much for the wild card Devils. Cory Schneider stood on his head for the first two periods. With the Lightning on multiple power plays to end the second and to start the third Schneider fended off shot after shot to hold Tampa to a 1-0 lead. The lead increased to 2-0 late in the third period on another Nikita Kucherov goal. Despite that, the Devils powered one in after pulling the goalie to pull within one. In the end, it was too much. The Lightning now has some time off before round two.
Kucherov, Lighting Beat New Jersey Devils in Five Games
With a 3-1win, The Lightning took the hopes of Devils fans and struck them down. The Devils had high hopes resting squarely on the shoulders of Taylor Hall as they achieved a wild-card berth with a great run of form late in the season. Once the first round of the playoffs began the weak spots of the Devils power play and penalty kill units became apparent. repeatedly during the series, the Lightning special teams were able to score on the power play when given the chance. The exception was game three when the Devils were able to produce enough offense and shut down the potent Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn to eke out a win.
Lightning Strike on the Devils Weakness
The Devils found it difficult to shut down the Lightning, They had the best record in the NHL for most of the year. Though they were able to pull out a win in game three the Devils were consistently outmatched by the Lightning. With the exception of that game, the Devils were outplayed in the series. Hall was able to carry the team to victory in the regular season, but try as he might he was unable to lift the rest of the Devils up to his level. With the Tampa defense led by Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy ready for Hall, the Devils were unable to change their game plan enough to challenge the Bolts.
Without a doubt, Kucherov was the star player of the series. He was there to score goals and score goals he did. He finished with points in all five games and 5 goals of the series. Also, finding himself in the setup role often. Kucherov might have been the main offensive threat for the Lightning, but the Lightning also found happiness in the postseason with a healthy Steven Stamkos. With the two of them on the ice, they find a way to put even the best NHL defenses in knots. The Devils are not one of the leagues best defenses and the gap became obvious during this series.
The Devils built their team and game around Hall. He scored or assisted in nearly every game of the series. Kyle Palmieri was able to step up in the playoffs and scored two goals. Rookie Nico Hischier contributed a goal and looks to be a threat in the years to come. The team moves the puck well but had a difficult time getting a good look at the net during this series. The Devils are knocking on the door of making a good playoff run but cannot rely on two players
The Lightning will wait to find out their opponent in round 2. The Lightning is a juggernaut of a team and looks ready to go deep in the playoffs. Is it their year to win the cup? Anything is possible. The first game of round two awaits. Their opponent will be the winner of the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs series.