Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning ended with some ferocity on Thursday night in Tampa. The Devils, who were defeated in Game 1 by a final score of 5-2, decided not to go quietly into the night when the final horn sounded for the first game of a best-of-seven series. Instead, the teams clad in white and blue met in the corner of the Lightning’s defensive end for some pushing, shoving, and exchanging of pleasantries. The teams set the tone for Game 2, which is slated for 3pm this afternoon at Amalie Arena.
I’m going to break the mold of our usual pregame article layout, and I’ll touch upon a few things the Devils need to improve upon heading into today’s contest.
Keys To Victory
Come Ready to Play – The Devils were dominated by the Bolts in the first 20 minutes of play on Thursday night. New Jersey looked slow, overwhelmed, and largely complacent during the first period, and it impacted them on the scoreboard. I’m willing to chalk that up to the first game jitters for a largely inexperienced group, but in a playoff game against the best team in the East, that cannot happen. Jersey’s Team found their legs in the second period and took it to the Bolts in the middle frame, so once they settled down, they looked great. If the Devils start Game 2 like they did Game 1, I guarantee this series won’t be a long one.
Get the First Goal – This is a fairly obvious one, but take away home ice advantage early and make the crowd a non-factor by striking first and striking early. Getting the first goal, especially early, will generate momentum for the Devils and will put the Bolts on their heels. I personally would greatly appreciate a quick start so that I’m not walking out of Amalie Arena with a throbbing headache again because of those noisemakers from Hell.
Physicality – The New Jersey Devils are not a physical team. They have not been all season long. New Jersey tends to shy away from scraps or extracurricular activities, especially after the whistle, and for some odd reason, especially in their own end. The team seems to much rather prefer to focus on their team speed and laying the occasional big hit on the forecheck than to go around checking everything in sight. However, this is the playoffs. The Bolts brought the boom on Thursday evening, laying a bunch of big hits especially on New Jersey’s top line. The playoffs are partly a war of attrition – wear the other team down any way you can. I don’t want the Devils to go around hitting everything that moves, that’s not their game. I’d love to see them being more physical in the defensive zone though, especially when it comes to protecting Kinkaid and clearing the crease so that he can see shots. Also, after a whistle in the defensive end, if a Bolt even looks at Kinkaid, there should be a man on him. Don’t be afraid to get chippy and let the emotions flow in the defensive end, and stand up for the other guys wearing white, and we will be good.
Stay Disciplined – New Jersey did a great job of staying out of the box in Game 1, which is critical for the team’s success given how good the Bolts’ power play is. The only exception was a stupid play by Miles Wood in the neutral zone 5 seconds into the second period, and it cost the team. As long as they aren’t parading to the box, it’s a good thing, and if you have to take a penalty to save a goal then fine. But don’t take stupid penalties for no reason. The officials did a great job of calling a fair game last time around, and wanted to let the players play. I expect more of the same this afternoon, so don’t give them a reason to call anything easy.
Secondary Scoring – One of the biggest perks of having home ice advantage is that the home team gets last change. This means that they control the matchups, so they can send their best defenders out against the opposing team’s best forwards. The Lightning really did a good job of shutting down the Taylor Hall- Nico Hischier – Kyle Palmieri line, so the Devils will need their secondary scorers like Stefan Noesen, Blake Coleman, Michael Grabner (!!!), Pat Maroon, and Miles Wood to start lighting the lamp.
Turnovers – Too many turnovers cost the Devils the game on Thursday. Make crisp, hard passes. Don’t force passes through the slot in the defensive zone. See the recipient before passing to them. Play smart hockey, and they’ll be fine, but Maroon, Mueller and Wood all had costly turnovers for the Devils, and that can’t happen against the Lightning. If you gift wrap the puck and hand it to somebody wearing blue and white, they’ll make you pay.
For New Jersey (subject to change)
For Tampa Bay
Players to Watch
Kyle Palmieri – He’s the Devils’ big gun on the power play, and the Bolts know it. They favored him strongly on both of the Devils’ power play opportunities and usually send two guys after him while leaving one glued to Hall and one staying home, which left the left-point man wide open. Palms is dangerous on the man advantage not just because he can shoot the puck, but because he has great vision and can find the open man, which he did a great job of on Thursday. I expect a big game from Palmieri not just on the man advantage, but at 5-on-5 as well.
Tyler Johnson – This guy is a short, fast, attacking, and annoying little bugger. He causes havoc on the forecheck and creates opportunities out of nothing. He scored in Game 1, and he’s a threat whenever he’s on the ice. Look out for him on line two.
The New Jersey Devils were not frustrated following Game 1. They were disappointed in themselves, and they seemed to have a chip on their shoulder based on their actions at the end of the game and their reactions in the locker room. This team has a history of resiliency when they’re in a hole, and they have a history of coming out on top. Let’s see if that will carry over into the playoffs. I think they’ll use their disappointment as fuel to the fire and will come out guns blazing in Game 2, playing their game and responding strongly against the Bolts. I predict that the Devils will come back to New Jersey fresh off a 5-3 victory over the Lightning.
The stakes are high, which is why we’re playing this game on www.statementgames.com. Our two lock statements for this afternoon’s matchup are:
Sami Vatanen Will Play OVER 23.00 Minutes
Victor Hedman Will Play OVER 26.06 Minutes
Where to Watch
The puck drops shortly after 3pm and can be seen on NBC if you’re in market, or CNBC if you’re out of market. We also invite you to follow us on social media as we provide live play-by-play and rapid reaction to this afternoon’s battle. We will have a team member at the game, who will go live on Facebook during warmups and will be posting to our Instagram story with an inside look from Amalie Arena. As always, make sure to submit your #DABFirstGoal guess when you see the post for a chance to win a prize at the end of the month!