Devils take lead late in third
Newark, NJ- The Lightning and Devils are not natural rivals. They’re separated by 1,118 miles, play in different divisions, and have only met in two playoff series that were over a decade ago. You wouldn’t guess that with how physical the series is between the current iteration of the teams. Tampa Bay won the first two games at Amalie Arena, but New Jersey took a pound of flesh from their adversaries. With the series moving to Newark, the physical play continued, even if the cast changed.
Corey Schneider was at one point listed among the most promising young goaltenders in the NHL. He was a reason for fans to go after Martin Brodeur retired and a pillar of the Devils’ rebuild. This year, he took a step backwards. He posted lows in save percentage and goals allowed per game with the Devils and lost the starting job to Keith Kinkaid, who performed admirably in his stead. With Kinkaid struggling against the Lightning in the first two games, NJ Head Coach John Hynes switched goalies and gave Schneider a chance for his first win since December 27th and the Devils’ first playoff win since 2012.
Schneider performed well in the first period, stopping all 12 shots the Lightning put on him in the frame. Andrei Vasilevskiy was also strong, holding the Devils’ scoreless after the first frame with 8 saves. The game appeared destined to be a goalie duel.
However, the second period turned into a penalty riddled affair and saw the scoring open up. Alex Killorn landed the first blow after Andy Green committed a slashing minor in the waning seconds of the first. Forty-two seconds into the second, Killorn redirected a Nikita Kucherov pass from behind the net by Schneider for the game’s first score. New Jersey had an answer though. Just after the halfway mark of the frame, it appeared Blake Coleman had mashed a puck through Vasilevskiy, but it was waved off because Coleman had pushed Victor Hedman into Vasilevskiy while the puck was bouncing and thus dislodged the net from its moorings. So play resumed and Jersey got a lift from Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall. The Lightning failed to capitalize on a John Moore high sticking minor, and when Tampa failed to clear the ensuing Devils’ possession, Hall intercepted a loose puck and got NJ on the board with his second goal of the series.
Play was tied into the third period when the game became defined by Schneider and penalties. Tampa Bay did get a goal and the lead early in the frame. Thirty-eight seconds into the period, Stephen Stamkos wristed a shot from the circle on the power play to get Tampa a 2-1 lead. New Jersey again had an answer. The Lightning caught with too many men on the ice and perfect Devils’ passing led to Will Butcher landing his first NHL Playoff goal only 4:03 into the period. After failing on a JT Miller tripping minor induced power play, Taylor Hall lugged the puck over the blue line. He saucered a pass to Stefan Noesen, and the 25 year old Plano, TX, native blasted a shot through Vasilevskiy for the first New Jersey lead of the series.
Schneider held firm and the Devils got two empty net goals, one from Blake Coleman and the other from Ben Lovejoy. The action did not end, however, after that. Ten players were issues ten minute misconduct penalties for a fight in the final 23 seconds of the game and the teams combined for 26 penalties, including 18 in the third period. The teams also combined for 130 penalty minutes.
Taylor Hall got a goal and two assists and was the first star. Will Butcher, New Jersey’s prized college signing out of Denver, recorded his first NHL playoff goal and was the best defensemen on the ice. He was the third star. Corey Schneider was second and recorded 34 saves on 36 shots and got the Devils’ their first playoff win since Game 5 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals against the LA Kings.
Andrei Vasilevskiy recorded 36 saves on 39 shots. Game four of the series is on Wednesday night. Puck drops at 7:30 at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.