The New Jersey Devils were the only team to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning three times this season, and they did it behind three different goaltenders; once in Florida and twice in New Jersey. But in no way, shape, or form does that mean they will roll past the East’s best team in their first-round matchup. We all know that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a different animal.
The Devils don’t have a team as talent-laden as the Lightning do, instead, their biggest asset is their relentless tenacity on the puck – all game long. That was a crucial aspect of their three wins against the Tampa and will be an interesting part of what should be a long series.
Over the course of the three games during the regular season 14 players recorded a point for New Jersey (eight had at least two points) while 11 different players for Tampa Bay had at least one point (five players had at least two).
The Devils won the three games by scores of 5-4 (shootout), 4-3, and 2-1. Over the course of the season series, it was two rookies who led their respective teams in scoring: Nico Hischier (2g-2a) and Mikhail Sergachev (4a) – Steven Stamkos also had four points (2g-2a) for the Lightning.
Miles Wood and Kyle Palmieri each netted game-winning goals in regulation and Palmieri also picked up the game-deciding goal in the shootout during their first matchup back in October. Drew Stafford (remember him?) had a two-goal game for New Jersey in that first matchup, and that’s two more goals than Taylor Hall had against the East’s top team. Don’t fret, no. 9 had three assists against the Lightning.
Ondrej Palat had two of the four power-play goals that Tampa scored against the Devils this season, and it was Stafford and Palmieri scoring the only goals for New Jersey during the man-advantage; the Lightning went 4-13, and New Jersey was 2-8.
Peter Budaj took the shootout loss for the Bolts in October against Cory Schneider, while Andrei Vasilevsky lost to two different Devils goalies – Eddie Lack (February) and Keith Kinkaid (March).
All of this likely won’t mean much when the puck drops on Thursday night in Tampa Bay for Game 1. Both teams are different and have evolved over the course of the season, but it’s interesting in the fact that the Lightning are one of the many top-end teams that the Devils have given fits to over the course of the 2017-18 season.
Both teams are relatively healthy, which is somewhat of a rarity at this time of year and it will be the third time that they square off in the postseason: 2003, 2007 – both won by New Jersey. Both teams also missed the playoffs last season but have been in the Stanley Cup Final this decade: New Jersey 2012, Tampa Bay 2015.
The Lightning have all of the playoff experience on their roster (1,145 games) in the series, while the Devils have all of the inexperience (590) and will be the underdog. But that’s where New Jersey has thrived all season, being the underdog. So for them, nothing will change, and all of the pressure will be on Tampa Bay. The only connection between them roster-wise is Devils center Brian Boyle who played with the Lightning from 2014-17.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.