Tampa took control of the series by beating the Devils 3-1 in what many are dubbing Nikita Kucherov's revenge game. Kucherov had two goals and an assist in the game and nailed Sami Vatanen with a huge hit early in the game, getting rid of New Jersey's top defenseman early in the contest. Tampa takes a 3-1 series lead back home after a closely contested match-up.
Kucherov takes over the game
It was another goalie match-up this time as it was Andrei Vasilevskiy vs Cory Schneider - part two. This time though, it was Vasilevskiy coming away with the victory. This would be the first time Schneider got consecutive starts since January.
Neither team truly ran away with the game, but for the first time this series, New Jersey struck gold first.
Kyle Palmeri made it 1-0 Devils 8:23 into the first off a rocket of a shot immediately off the faceoff on a 5-on-3 man advantage. This gave New Jersey some momentum as it seemed like they may be replicating their play from Game 3, but that would not be the case.
A little over three minutes later, Tampa tied the game at one. Steven Stamkos set up a great rush down the ice where he fed it to Kucherov who then found J.T. Miller for the game-tying goal over Schneider's shoulder.
Less than four minutes later, Kucherov tallied the second point of his three-point night as he collected the loose puck off of New Jersey defenseman Damon Severson's skate and wristed it home past Cory Schneider. This gave Tampa a 2-1 lead which would stand until the 1:08 mark of the third period.
Both goalies stood tall
It was a back and forth affair for much of the second and third periods as both goalies stood tall for their respective teams. Cory Schneider and Andrei Vasilevskiy both went toe-to-toe as they made great save after great save.
Vasilevskiy stopped three breakaways by the New Jersey Devils and stopped 27 of the 28 shots he faced. He gave up one goal the entire night, and after that goal, New Jersey just could not figure him out. The Devils threw everything they had at him, but nothing got past him.
That was not to be outdone by Schneider who tried everything he could to keep his team in it. The game could have been a lot worse but Schneider remained strong despite giving up two goals early.
After the scoring in the first, there were no goals in the second (but some great chances) until the Kucherov empty-netter with about a minute left in the game. That sealed the deal for Tampa and gave them a 3-1 win and a 3-1 series lead as Kucherov achieved another three-point night in this series.
"We had so many penalties the last game, giving out so many opportunities on the power play for them (eight)," Kucherov said. "For us, but especially for me, I was [ticked] off and didn't want to lose."
Kucherov has been the MVP of the series as he has nine points in four games. He completely took over the game and was truly the best player on the ice. He may run into trouble with his hit on Vatanen, but the NHL is extremely inconsistent with their rulings so he most likely won't face discipline.
New Jersey tried but failed. They weren't able to replicate the magic from the 5-2 drubbing of Tampa in Game three, but they kept it close. If they are able to figure out the enigma that is Vasilevskiy then they may run the table, but don't count on it.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is a Vezina Trophy candidate for a reason and a team like New Jersey (that is the second wild card, and hasn't been to playoffs since 2012), relies on like four players for everything, won't be able to crack him.
Not to be outdone is Cory Schneider. He played excellent in this game, only letting in two goals on 37 shots against the best team in the Eastern Conference, and is averaging only two goals a game. If he can keep up his play and not fall apart like Kinkaid, then New Jersey has a shot if their playmakers can come alive... all at the same time with consistency.
"It was a good effort by us, but that is why they are dangerous because they can still beat you, even if they don't get a power-play goal ... top line, depth, they've got a lot of ways they can beat you and they found a different way to do it tonight," Schneider said. "We're not one for moral victories right now because it doesn't do you any good. We know we can play and that we are a good team, a playoff team, and now we just have to go and extend the series."
Tampa heads home with a 3-1 series lead but has a stingy New Jersey team that just won't go away quietly. I wouldn't be surprised if New Jersey took Game 5, but I also wouldn't be surprised if they lost. New Jersey, like I've been saying after all three losses, just needs to tweak a few things to be successful.
They have to play with the confidence that they did in Game 3 and realize that Tampa isn't all that big and scary.
Game 5 will take place in Tampa on Saturday, April 21st at 3 P.M. E.T.
Do you think New Jersey has a chance? How far do you think Tampa will get in the playoffs? Tell me in the comments below!