The New Jersey Devils play their final road game of the season tonight as they prepare to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first of two upcoming matchups. Last time they met, the Lightning handed the Devils a lopsided 4-0 loss. This occurred late in February when the Devils were in the midst of what would be a 2-8-0 streak that had irreparable ramifications on their season’s course. The one positive for Devils fans is the official return of all-star goaltender Cory Schneider. After being sidelined since March 4th, he backed up Keith Kinkaid in New Jersey’s 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Thursday, and is tonight’s confirmed starter for the Devils. Schneider started in net when these teams first met. While the Devils wait for their inevitable mathematical elimination from the 2016 playoffs (which could happen tonight), the Devils should use the circumstances they’re in as motivation to go out with a bang and make things as difficult as possible for the Lightning to secure a higher playoff spot.
The Devils received news that forward Jordin Tootoo and defenseman John Merrill will both miss the remainder of the regular season due to their injuries. While left wing Patrik Elias is slated to return as early as next week, coach Hynes did confirm that center Jacob Josefson and defenseman David Schlemko will both be available to play tonight. Whether or not he chooses to go with either player in the lineup, remains to be seen. Tampa Bay has their usual band of suspects ready to deploy in their lineup tonight, which is essentially the same squad that delivered New Jersey their 4-0 shutout loss over a month ago. There will be four or five different lineup changes for tonight’s Devils lineup, compared to the squad they deployed against Tampa Bay during their first meeting. New Jersey will be won’t have Stempniak, Ruutu, Tootoo, Merrill, or Schlemko, all of whom played in the Devils’ first matchup against the Lightning.
Who to watch
Cory Schneider…Cory’s starting his first contest in almost a month and you have to figure he’s going to be very anxious to get back into game form. Hopes are high Schneider could provide some extra momentum to give the Devils that extra push they need to prevent tonight’s contest from being a lopsided one. If New Jersey is poised to face the barrage of shots they’ve had in the past two games, they should feel more than comfortable knowing Cory is back between the pipes.
Nikita Kucherov…He’s been one of Tampa’s hottest players coming into tonight’s contest. The Russian-born winger has four goals and six points in his last five games, and 11 points all of March. Kucherov plays considerably better on home ice, where he’s attained 37 out of his 61 points but has only scored twice against Metropolitan Division teams this season.
What to watch
Overtime Juggernauts…Respectively, New Jersey and Tampa Bay are tied for third and fifth-most overtime goals this season. We all know how well the Devils have played in three-on-three overtime this year, but the Lightning are right up there with them. One would say the Devils would have great difficulty facing an offense of Tampa’s caliber in overtime, but the Devils played (and defeated) multiple teams whose offenses are on par (or better) than Tampa’s. Should tonight’s game go beyond 60 minutes of regulation play, we as fans could be in for an eventful post-regulation period.
Where to watch
SUN (Tampa Bay)
When to watch