The cup contending Devils followed one of their best performances of the year with a real stinker in the first of three games against the Lightning in five days.
That was frustrating. After watching the Devils play a fantastic game and earn a 3-0 victory against the Hurricanes on Sunday night, we saw the Devils crumble in a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Lightning on Tuesday night. This was frustrating because not only did we see the Devils play outstanding hockey against one of the NHL’s best teams just 48 hours prior, but because we saw flashes of that outstanding play on Tuesday night as well. The Devils were easily the far superior team for most of the first period. That is, until New Jersey had a goal called back for a highly questionable goalie interference call and the Lightning scored a shorthanded goal not long after. Anthony Cirelli scored shorthanded at the 16:17 mark and the Devils power play failed to generate any chances or build any momentum and the Lightning took over the rest of the period. The Devils power play was worse than useless on both chances they had in this game, only getting three shots on goal, and allowing a two on one chance against to end up in the back of the net for Tampa Bay.
Vitek Vanecek did not have his best game, allowing 4 goals on 30 shots against. His worst moment of the night was Tampa Bay’s second goal, scored by Brandon Hagel, again on a two on one. Hagel came down on the rush with Nikita Kucherov and just shot the puck under Vitek’s glove. John Marino fell down while trying to step up on Hagel to create the rush but the shot was not anything too special and I think even Vanecek would acknowledge that he should have stopped it. The third Tampa Bay goal was a totally unacceptable effort from the Devils skaters. Dougie Hamilton made an ill advised drop pass to a well covered Jesper Bratt at the Lightning blue line which led to a rush chance the other way. In an attempt to recover the turnover Bratt was going to be called for hooking Brandon Hagel, who dropped the puck back to a wild open Alex Killorn. Timo Meier was late to get back on the back check, which left Killorn with all the time and space he could ever want to walk in and rip the puck past Vanecek. So the turnover from Hamilton, the inabiluty of Bratt to get the puck back from Hagel, and the late back check from Meier all contributed to leaving Killorn wide open with plenty of time to pick his spot right in front of Vanecek.
I don’t want to dwell too much on the negatives here. The Devils had a bad game against an elite team. It happens to every team at some point. The Devils have still won seven of their last 10 games, and are still in second place in the Metro with a very realistic shot at first before the season ends. The Devils will have another shot at the Lightning in “game two” from the Prudential Center on Thursday night, and another on Sunday night in Tampa for “game three”. This game doesn’t change the fact that the Devils are serious contenders to win the Stanley Cup. Don’t get caught up in extreme recency bias and don’t let the sour taste from this game fool you into thinking that these are the same old Devils from the last five years. This Devils team is going to the playoffs and has a real chance to win the Stanley Cup,even though they did not play well in this game. You can follow me on Twitter at PatBoooooth