Devils head coach John Hynes wasn’t fooling anyone on who is the Devils starting goaltender in Game 1 of the Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning first-round series Thursday night.
Not when Keith Kinkaid started 12 of the last Devils’ 14 games. Not when Kinkaid stepped up to win games when Cory Schneider was out with a groin injury. Not when he played a role in the Devils making the playoffs. It was obvious who was starting Game 1 for the Devils. It was cute that Hynes tried to fool the Lightning, even though they were not buying it.
Hynes thankfully ended the charade Wednesday when he announced Kinkaid would start the series.
This is the moment the Devils goaltender has been waiting for all his life. This is his chance to shine. A chance to show he can be the guy in the nets for the Devils or for any NHL team. He may not get this opportunity again being that he will likely be the Devils’ backup goaltender after this season, so he has to take the carpe diem approach. This is his life in so many ways.
Kinkaid is looking forward to this the way a kid is looking forward for his or her Christmas gift. It might as well be Christmas for the 28-year-old goaltender.
If anyone is expecting him to be nervous, think again. He has the right makeup to be the guy in the playoffs. The moment is not big for him. He has played games when he had to step up the last two months for the Devils to hang around in the wild-card race, and he played fine.
Granted, playoffs hockey is much more faster than regular season hockey, but don’t expect him to be overwhelmed by all this. He has the personality to handle stress as much as he handle. His cool demeanor is the right approach for hockey, and that’s why the No. 8 seed Devils have a shot to beat the No. 1 seed Lightning.
It’s a compelling story to see what Kinkaid is going to do. Will the magic ride end in the playoffs or will it continue? His story is the most interesting aspect about the Devils making the playoffs.
No one thought the 28-year-old undrafted free agent would have taken the Devils this far, and it’s hard to believe he changed anyone’s mind about leading the Devils further in the playoffs. Now if he wins the playoff series against the Lightning, he will certainly get everyone thinking.
What’s important is his teammates and his coaches believe in him. It’s not pap when they say they can rely on him to get the job done. It’s genuine. That’s what happens when he was in net for the 10 victories that the Devils had in their final 14 games. That’s what happens when he closed the season by going 7-0-1. That’s what happens when he had a 16-3-1 mark, a 2.32 goals-against and .929 save percentage from Feb. 13 to Apr. 5.
The experts believe if the Devils beat the Lightning, it will be because of their scorers. That could be true, but it would be a mistake to dismiss Kinkaid. He gives them a shot to win the series. He’s going to have to be efficient for the Devils to survive the Lightning. He gives them that.
The Lightning know better than to dismiss him.
This postseason is an important part of Kinkaid’s career. If he does well and takes the Devils to the Eastern Conference finals, he has every right to start next year. It’s going to be hard for him to accept being a backup. Yes, Schneider is good, but this isn’t Martin Brodeur we are talking here. Kinkaid shouldn’t have to be relegated to Schneider’s backup if he has proved his worth.
The Devils could use this opportunity to trade Kinkaid and get value in return. Yes, good goalies are hard to find, but Devils general manager Ray Shero has been adept in finding talent, so he can be trusted to find a goaltender.
First things first. Kinkaid has to play well against the Lightning for the Devils to advance. All he ever wanted was a chance to show his worth. He gets it, and this could be his last time he gets an opportunity. So much is riding for him from his perspective.
He hasn’t been anxious at all. Why should he change his approach that has helped him be successful? If the worst he can be is being a backup, so be it.
Thursday night will be a different feeling. Everything is going to be at 100 mph when it comes to playoff hockey.
To that Kinkaid would say, bring it on.
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