The Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils faced off at Amalie Arena on Saturday to see who could take game two. Tampa prevailed 5-3 to grab the 2-0 series lead in the best-of-seven series as it now shifts to New Jersey on Monday.
Nico Hischier gets in on the rookie scoring
The Devils and head coach John Hynes looked to get off to a better start this game than they did in Game 1, and that they did. New Jersey looked like a different team. They tried to play better and it showed. Goalie Keith Kinkaid actually had help in front of them, and they were able to limit Tampa's time spent in the zone as well.
Over more than half the game had gone by before Tampa's gritty second line would put it past Kinkaid which only began his woes at the goaltender position tonight. Brayden Point received a beautiful saucer pass from Ondrej Palat as both New Jersey defenders surrounded Palat. Point took the puck and put an amazing shot right past Kinkaid with no one around him. Point gets his first career playoff goal.
It was a shame to watch that happen because it seemed like New Jersey had figured out how to not leave their goalie out to dry, and he was playing extremely well too, but old habits die hard.
Thankfully for New Jersey though, Nico Hischier would answer about a minute and a half later to tie the game at one. Hischier would collect the rebound off a blueline shot by New Jersey, and put it past Andrei Vasilevskiy to tie the game at one with 6:22 remaining. This would be Hischier first career NHL playoff goal.
Both teams would head to the locker room with the score tied at one, and New Jersey outshooting Tampa 10-6.
Tampa takes complete control
After a pretty good first period, New Jersey was looking for more of the same, but that would not be the case. Tampa scored four goals on 10 shots in the second period resulting in Kinkaid getting pulled and Cory Schneider coming on in relief.
On Tampa's second powerplay of the night, Alex Killorn got a great feed in front of the net from Nikita Kucherov who, after having a quiet night in Game 1, would go on to have a three-point night. Killorn jammed it past Kinkaid to give Tampa the 2-1 lead.
One minute and 12 seconds later, Tampa would score again.
Tyler Johnson redirected a point shot from Ryan Mcdonagh that Kinkaid had absolutely no chance on and barely even saw. This would bring Tampa's lead to 3-1.
One minute and 25 seconds later Tampa would... you guessed it, score again.
Kucherov got his second point of the night as the puck bounced off of Sami Vatanen's skate and into the net continuing Kinkaid's rough stretch of bad luck in this disastrous second period. Kucherov's goal would extend the lead to 4-1.
As the score remained 4-1, Hynes stuck with his embattled goaltender as it seemed like New Jersey was starting to gain some energy and focus back. But at the 13:12 mark of the second, Killorn would do what lightning can't and strike twice even doing it on the powerplay.
A very similar goal to his first, Killorn mopped up the rebound off a J.T. Miller shot as Kinkaid sprawled out to cover the puck. Kucherov got his third point of the night, the score would be 5-1 with 13 minutes left in the second and the whole third period still left, and Kinkaid's night was done. Schneider came on to replace Kinkaid.
Just as it seemed like New Jersey had nothing left, they bounced back just like in Game 1 and got a new outlook on life... or something.
With only 26 seconds left to play in the second, Vatanen made it 5-2 on a beauty of a wrister that found its way back to its home past Vasilevskiy. Vatanen took the puck straight through the neutral zone, taking advantage of Tampa's lax coverage, and snapped it right by him.
So a very eventful second period would end with Tampa leading by a score of 5-2, and a New Jersey hoping to build some momentum that would never really come.
The Devils tried, but once again failed
It felt like Tampa had the game all but locked up as New Jersey could not get anything past Vasilevskiy. That was not to be outdone by Schneider who was trying his darnedest to keep the Devils in it, and who stopped all nine shots he faced in the third and all 10 overall. New Jersey was heavily outshooting Tampa 25-16 entering the third, and that would continue all the way until the end.
Vasilevskiy made 41 saves on 44 shots faced because Blake Coleman was not ready to go down without a fight.
At the 11:57 mark of the third, Coleman blasted a perfect set-up one-timer past Vasilevskiy who had no chance. New Jersey was applying intense pressure beforehand causing the Lightning to have very tired players on the ice as Coleman just slipped into the high slot to bank that one home.
New Jersey was throwing everything at Tampa only down 5-3 now, and they even pulled their goalie, but nothing was getting passed Vasilevskiy. The score stayed 5-3 as New Jersey is headed back home down 0-2 in the series, and now have to fight to dig themselves out of the hole that they created.
"We had seen enough pucks go into the back of the net and it's an opportunity for Cory to get in and in a game situation, in a difficult situation," New Jersey coach John Hynes said after the game regarding Kinkaid being pulled, he never committed to a starter. "It was good to give him an opportunity to get in there and I thought he came in and made some huge saves, looked good, looked solid, so that's a positive for us moving forward."
Devils' captain Andy Greene said it best about what New Jersey has to do in Game 3, "We came out in the third and played the right way. We have to do that in the first and go from there. We can't have these three-, four-, five-minute lapses in periods against a good team that took advantage of it, and we just can't have those kind of mistakes in this series."
New Jersey is headed home down 0-2, and I don't know how it gets much better for them. They now have a goalie situation that wouldn't have had happened if Hynes kept Kinkaid in net, they don't seem to come alive until the third, and Vasilevskiy is playing like a man possessed.
I mean how can you beat a goalie that is doing this:
Or doing this:
I mean it's nearly impossible. Unless New Jersey finds some secret to beating him that no one knows about, this series will be over in four, and he will get the Vezina. New Jersey is getting their fair share of chances, scoring two goals in Game 1 and three in Game 2 respectively, but it's the lackluster play before their chances that is actually hurting them.
Most of the goals on Kinkaid weren't his fault (going back to what I said two paragraphs ago), and it was unfortunate bounces, or a skate, that made the score what it is. The defense in front of him has to improve like I said last time or they are going to be done in four.
New Jersey showed spurts here and there of really good playoff hockey, but they couldn't sustain it. That is partly due to Tampa being really good at hockey, but also New Jersey letting Tampa walk all over them. I mean they managed 44 shots on net while Tampa finished with 26. 26!
They limited the number one seed in the entire Eastern Conference to 26 shots, and still lost and let in five goals. Something has to eventually break their way, but they can't bank on it. New Jersey's playmakers are starting to step up, but it has to be more consistent. Yeah, Tampa only managed 26 shots, but they still scored five goals and New Jersey couldn't match it.
New Jersey has to find a way to fix this or they will be out in four, mark my words.
The series shifts to New Jersey as Game 3 is set to take place at the Prudential Center on Monday, April 16th at 7:30 P.M. E.T.
Do you think New Jersey has a shot to turn this around? Do you think Tampa has wrapped up in four? Tell me in the comments below!