Step four: Lightning send the Devils packing

by Gary Shelton on April 22, 2018 · 4 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Mikhail Sergachev, who scored the first goal, collides with Brian Gibbons./STEVEN MUNCIE

Mikhail Sergachev, who scored the first goal, collides with Brian Gibbons./STEVEN MUNCIE

Sunday, 4 a.m.

Next?

Boston? Toronto? If the Tampa Bay Lightning plays like this, with a purpose on defense, with solid goaltending, with offense from throughout its roster, does it matter?

The Lightning beat the Devils again Saturday, winning its opening series 4-1 over a team that had swept all three regular-season games. It wasn't the sharpest game offensively -- at one point, the Lightning failed to score on five straight power plays -- but the team was sharp defensively in front of goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Andrei Vasilevskiy watches as Palmeri attempts to score./STEVEN MUNCIE

Andrei Vasilevskiy stops Palmieri as he attempts to score./STEVEN MUNCIE

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Ryan Callahan reacts after scoring an empty-netter with 2 seconds left./STEVEN MUNCIE

Ryan Callahan reacts after scoring an empty-netter with 2 seconds left./STEVEN MUNCIE

In the end, that was the difference in the series. Except for the one game won by the Devils, New Jersey scored just seven goals in the series. After New Jersey had 44 shots in its game two loss and 39 in its game three win, the Bolts held the Devils to 28 shots in ints last two games.

The Lightning plays this week against the winner of the Boston-Toronto series.

"It’s a seven-game series, and the cliché is the fourth one is always the toughest one to win," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "The fourth one is the most magnified

Victor Hedman joins in the offensive attack./STEVEN MUNCIE

Victor Hedman joins in the offensive attack./STEVEN MUNCIE

win, I guess. But you still have to win three games to get there. People always talk about home ice and does it really matter, well in the end when you take care of business and get the two wins at home, the role is reversed and they have to all of sudden take two and all we have to do is go there and win one and then you get two chances at home. But ultimately you just don’t want to get on the plane again.

"People will look at this series and say it was 4-1 and Tampa took it to them, but anybody who actually watched these games clearly knows that’s not what happened in this series. It was fought from the opening drop of the puck right to the end. We just happened to get big goals at the right time and we had the lead a lot."

The Lightning won't have to go back to New Jersey because of their stars.

Yanni Gourde screens as Sergachev scores./STEVEN MUNCIE

Yanni Gourde screens as Sergachev scores./STEVEN MUNCIE

There was the baby goalie. Vasilevskiy won his first playoff series for the Bolts. The Bolts played well in front of Vasilevskiy, but Vasilevskiy had his moments, too, including a brilliant kick save on an open Jesper Bratt at 12:01 of the third period.

"He was on it from Game 1," Cooper said. "It was funny how the series went because there were times in games where we really dictated play, but you think about a couple of the third periods we had where were giving up 20 shots a period – and one of them it’s a 5-1 and it’s a little tougher for a goalie to play as they were pressing – but he has to stand in there and face all those shots. He just came up huge in every big situation. He would go times in this series where he would go seven to nine minutes without seeing a shot and then all of a sudden have to face a power play or a big time chance. So just the timely saves were phenomenal for us. He just played with confidence, even when he played the puck that’s when you know he’s good, he was just making plays, he was putting the pucks in spots for the defensemen to handle them. He was a pro and it was a big time performance from him in all five games."

Alex Killorn has an awkward landing./STEVEN MUNCIE

Alex Killorn has an awkward landing./STEVEN MUNCIE

There was the kid. Mikhail Sergachev became the youngest player in franchise history to score a playoff goal. Sergachev, 19, is still fighting acne. He looks like the kid who brings your pizza on Friday night. It was Sergachev who ripped a first-period shot past Cory Schneider to give his team a 1-0 lead.

"You are hoping to be able to develop a young hockey player," Cooper said of Sergachev early in the season. "Coming in to the series, we were kind of getting a feel for who were going to be our pairs and what was going to go on. Was McDonagh going to play with Girardi and that you have to work out, move guys around and McDonagh and Stralman really kind of fell in to place. You just look down and ask, is Sergachev going to be able to handle what has gone on and I think he played 80 games and his poise – he went through the times of despair, he went through the times of excitement, he went through the grind of 82 games. Now you aren’t going to see anything new, it’s just the compete is heightened and he raised his bar. We had confidence he could and he did."

Steven Stamkos congratulates Nikita Kucherov after he scored in the 3rd period./STEVEN MUNCIE

Steven Stamkos congratulates Nikita Kucherov after he scored in the 3rd period./STEVEN MUNCIE

Said Nikita Kucherov: "It seems like he's been playing in this league for 20 years."

There was the star. The incredible Kucherov finished the five-game series with five goals and five assists. You could argue that much of the reason the Lightning won this series was because they were able to slow down Taylor Hall, and the Devils were not able to hinder Kucherov.

"I thought he elevated his game through the series, there is no question," Cooper said. "As this series went on, Kuch had an impact on it. He had an impact in just his physical play, the goals he was scoring in Game 4 and obviously what he did tonight. A lot of times you need your best players to be your best players and he rose to the occasion."

There was the tough old veteran. Ryan Callahan, often hurt from pushing his body too hard, who drove home the final nail with an empty net goal with two seconds to play.

There were the defenders. Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman helped control Taylor Hall with their defense.

J.T. Miller battles as the puck goes in the net./STEVEN MUNCIE

J.T. Miller battles as the puck goes in the net./STEVEN MUNCIE

"That's the assignment," Cooper said. "Those guys ...you can get your forward line out there as much as you can against them but it doesn’t always work out. Especially you look at power plays and when Pointer’s line is out on the power play, you can’t put them out there and you know Hall’s line is coming out right after that, you need to have somebody to play against them and McDonagh and Stralman were the guys always going out there against them and I felt they did a fabulous job. But you have to give a little credit to Paquette, Callahan and Kunitz because they found themselves going out there against them a number of times and holding them in check. You watch Stralman and McDonagh in the last parts of the game when it was protect the lead, they were huge. They were blocking shots, getting pucks out, the poise under pressure. McDonagh was definitely the one leading the charge."

All in all, the series victory helped remove much of the doubts that plagued this team over the final few weeks of a regular season. Oh, the Bolts will still have to win their next-round series, and possibly the one after that, to prevent this team from being a disappointment, but they have earned themselves a new canvas.

Devil's Severson gets a penalty for grabbing Brayden Point./STEVEN MUNCIE

Devil's Severson gets a penalty for grabbing Brayden Point./STEVEN MUNCIE

Still, this is the NHL, and to win, you need to complete a journey. The Bolts are one -fourth of the way there. That's all. They've taken four steps of a 16-step program.

For the Bolts to keep moving forward, they'll need more defensive efforts such as this one.

“It was great," Sergachev said. "Guys were trying to block shots. At some point, I saw three guys trying to block one shot, and it’s great. To see guys like (Callahan) and even young guys blocking shots and getting in the shooting lane, making plays. It’s a lot of pressure out there. Fans are cheering and yelling and the other team is playing their best and under a lot of pressure at making plays.”

The Lightning played well in front of Vasilevskiy ./STEVEN MUNCIE

The Lightning played well in front of Vasilevskiy ./STEVEN MUNCIE

 

 

 

 

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill MYERS April 22, 2018 at 8:01 am

Ok Gary!! The Lightning are in the second round! So who would you rather they play in round 2 ….Boston or Toronto? GO BOLTS!

Reply

Gary Shelton April 22, 2018 at 10:01 am

toronto. I don’t know that they’re quite mature enough yet. Boston gives the Bolts fits. You ?

Reply

Bill Myers April 22, 2018 at 7:23 pm

I agree Toronto would be my pick! I just hope they go the full seven! Some of the Bolts need the healing time!

Reply

Gary Shelton April 22, 2018 at 9:24 pm

That’s part of it, isn’t it?

Reply

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