Game 3 saw the New Jersey Devils take on the Tampa Bay Lightning at home for their first home playoff game since June 9th, 2012. This game finally saw the Devils come alive and match the play of an awesome Lightning squad.
This game was incredibly close, and thanks to the fantastic play of goalie Cory Schneider it remained close. For a team that struggled all year to put games on ice with empty netters, they had two in the final minute to get the win by a score of 5-2.
Schneider gets his first playoff start
Head coach John Hynes elected to have Schneider start in net in place of Keith Kinkaid, whose terrible play lost New Jersey Game 2. As the Prudential was rocking, so were the Devils. Both teams came out flying, but no one would score in the first.
Schneider was going toe-to-toe with Andrei Vasilevskiy and had the full support of the Devils' fans which propelled the team to even greater heights. Schneider stopped all 12 shots while Vasilevskiy stopped 8.
After unsuccessful powerplay attempts from both teams, it seemed like this would be the night of the goalies. Both teams headed to locker room interlocked in a great defensive battle as New Jersey seemed like a completely different team, but the score was still 0-0 after one.
What you can do, I can do better
For as great as Schneider was in the first, pundits were waiting for the other shoe to drop and seemed like that happened as Tampa scored first on the powerplay to make it 1-0.
Alex Killorn scored off a redirected pass from Nikita Kucherov to get his third powerplay goal of the series just 42 seconds into the second period. It seemed like this would be a repeat of Game's 1 and 2 as Tampa jumped out to the quick early lead, but that would not be the case.
New Jersey did not seem deterred like they had in games past, they still had life and they knew it.
As the fans in the Prudential Center began to get restless as it seemed like Vasilevskiy wasn't letting anything through... then Taylor Hall happened. With 7:36 left the second, Hall tied the game at one piece to give New Jersey some life and hope that this is a different game.
Hall collected the loose puck off of an errant pass and rocked the puck home past Vailevskiy for the goal. The fans rose in celebration and he got the fans into the game again as they began to get loud and raucous. This goal would begin Hall down the path towards a three-point night.
The second period would end with both goalies giving up a goal to have the score be tied at one. As both teams headed to the locker room, the question became, can the Devils sustain this level of play?
The Devils came to play
As the puck for the third dropped, Tampa started the period on the man advantage. To this point, Schneider made 27 saves on 28 shots so far and was looking very sharp. But, tragedy would strike again for the Devils.
Just 38 seconds into the third, Steven Stamkos would find the back of the net on the powerplay to put Tampa up 2-1.
Off a beautiful pass through traffic by Kucherov, Stamkos wristed one five-hole on Schneider and gave Tampa the lone goal advantage and provide a hush over the crowd. This goal would be the last one Tampa would score for the rest of the night.
Just 3:25 later, Will Butcher scored his first NHL playoff goal on a laser of a shot that went top-shelf on a 5-on-3 advantage to tie the game up. A great screen by Patrick Maroon allowed Hall to set up Butcher for a beautiful shot that Vasilevskiy saw too late. This was Hall's second of three points in the game.
New Jersey would never look back from there.
Schneider made great save after great save to keep his team in it.
New Jersey never backed down either and was inspired by the great play of their goaltender. They countered everything that Tampa was doing with their rushes and when it looked like this may be heading to overtime, one of the goalies made a mistake.
After Hall skated into the offensive zone past everyone, he drew in the defensemen and then he passed outside to Stefan Noesen who was just waiting to get his chance. He rocketed the puck past Vasilevskiy who dived to get it but barely stood a chance. This gave the Devils a 3-2 lead which they would have until the last minute of the period.
Both goalies remained strong for the rest of the period and Schneider truly kept his team in it. Schneider was the better goalie in every category in this game and it showed especially after losing his last t10 games.
The game ended with the score of 5-2 after both Blake Coleman and Brandon Lovejoy added empty-netters to close out the game.
With a little under 30 seconds left, things got chippy and extremely physical as the game stopped because the refs had to break it all up. It all started with Mikhail Sergachev elbowing Coleman in the head who rightfully got a penalty.
Then a scrum ensued that saw everyone basically thrown off the ice and given game misconducts as Brain Boyle, John Moore, Drew Stafford, Miles Wood and Damon Severson all tried to stand up for their teammates against Sergachev, Killorn, Cedric Paquette, Brayden Coburn, and Cory Conacher.
Sergachev and Boyle tried to go at it, but the refs rightfully broke that up as to not see any bloodshed on the ice. Emotions are beginning to boil over in this series, and hopefully, this is as high as they get. Oh, and Victor Hedman also speared Nico Hischier in the crotch with his skate.
The final score was 5-2, and the Devils completely reversed the tape and outplayed Tampa. It seemed like every time Tampa would do something, New Jersey had an answer. Schneider played way above what anyone expected and was absolutely amazing in the win.
All of the problems that Tampa was causing New Jersey in the first two games seemed non-existent in this one. New Jersey just looked like a completely different team, and with the win, it makes it 44 straight playoff series that they will not be swept.
Tampa looked lost out there, but they know how to beat New Jersey. They have now given the Devils hope and hope is a dangerous thing. If Tampa wants to win this series, they have to take Game 4.
If they let New Jersey tie up the series then anything can happen. They also have to not let their emotions get the best of them. Even though the refs called a ridiculous amount of penalties, they can't keep giving them those chances.
They beat New Jersey before, they just have to go back to that. They have to clean up the sloppiness and get their emotions in check and realize that they are the number-one seed in the East for a reason.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said it best after the game, "Any momentum they gained in that game was because of our penalties, and every penalty we took it seemed was 200 feet from our net. It was too bad because I thought for two periods, and then after getting the go-ahead goal (by Stamkos), we had control of that game. But you can't keep taking the penalties. We did it to ourselves."
New Jersey and Tampa face off again from the Prudential Center on Wednesday, April 18th at 7:30 P.M. E.T.
Do you think New Jersey has a chance now? Who do you think wins the next game? Tell me in the comments below!