On Thursday night, the Devils found out what the Rangers and Islanders learned about the Tampa Bay Lightning in their respective series against them over the years. It’s not easy to stop them with all their four lines, and there is no taking shifts off against them.
The Devils were gasping for air late in the first period, and the Lightning made them pay by scoring the first two goals in that period to set the tone in their 5-2 victory over the Devils in Game 1 of the best-of-seven first round series.
It was not the Lightning’s top line that beat the Devils. It was their second line that did most of the damage in this contest. It says something about how deep the Lightning are in scoring when Nikita Kucherov was not a factor until he scored an empty-netter in the third period to seal the win that set off a delirious 19,092 crowd at the Amalie Arena.
The Devils started off fine defensively by blocking shots and not giving the Lightning second or third chance to score. They were quick to the puck, and they forced the Lightning into several turnovers. They were comfortable out on the ice after playing the Lightning well for the first 15 minutes of the game, and therein lies the rub.
The Lightning got the Devils where they want them. Complacent, comfortable and relaxed where they could take plays off, and it burned the Devils couple of times in the first period. That was the story of the game right there.
With five minutes to play in the first period, Tyler Johnson found a open Ondrej Palat, who put the puck through the low slot that would give the Lightning an 1-0 lead. The Devils got burned again later in that same period when Palat dished the puck to an open Johnson that would have him score on a nifty pivot.
It was a lesson the Devils learned moving forward. They know now not to relax at any point of the game against a high-flying Lightning team. If they are going to beat the Lightning, they have to bring it for 60 minutes. Of course, it’s easier said than done. The Lightning can wear the Devils down, and that may have been the case late in the first period.
It did not get any easier for the Devils when the Lightning started the second period on the power play. Not surprisingly, the Lightning scored on a power-play goal by Yanni Gourde to make it a 3-0 game. It might as well be Game, Set and Match.
The Devils made it interesting in the end being the resilient team they have been all season. Taylor Hall scored the Devils’ first goal in the second period, and he assisted on the Devils’ second goal on a power-play goal by Travis Zajac in the third period that would cut the Devils’ deficit to 3-2.
But any delusions about the Devils coming back to tie it ended when Alex Killorn hit a wrist shot to extend the Lightning’s lead to 4-2. Sure it was cute for them to put an extra attacker to try to make it interesting, but the Lightning would not be fooled.
The beauty of this seven-game series is it was one game. It couldn’t have been surprising the Lightning would put on a businesslike performance in Game 1 at their rink. The Devils had to brace for that, especially when the Lightning had to hear about them being the right matchup for the visitors.
Now, we will see what adjustments Devils coach John Hynes and his staff do to counteract with the Lightning offense. That’s where they are going to earn their money. It’s already hard enough as it is to match up with the Lightning with the plethora of scorers they have, but they have to find a way if the Devils are going to win some games in this series. It’s the pick your poison theory in who to stop. If the Devils try to stop the Triplets, then Steven Stamkos and Kucherov will burn them.
The Devils are going to have to play 60 minutes defensively to have a shot to win a game, and that’s not going to be easy. The Lightning can hit the Devils and wear them down, which they did in the first period.
The Devils wanted to play the Lightning in the playoffs since they match up well with them. They wanted no part of the Bruins since they don’t have the size and strength to keep up with them. Be careful what you wish for because you may get it.
The Lightning gave the Devils something to think about with their play and their result in Game 1.