Lightning Strike One Against Devils

In Tampa Bay, Land Of The Stogie, the Devils need a good cigar because as they ready for Game 2 on Saturday, right now they’re just close — but no cigar!

The experienced first-place Lightning, playing at home Thursday night, beat the inexperienced bottom wild-card outfit, 5-2, pretty much as the critics expected.

Ever valiant, the Devils fought back from a three-goal deficit, reducing it to a 3-2 game in the third period. Close? Yes — until Alex Killorn pumped in the fourth Bolts goal and it was game over.

“The Devils didn’t make a strong play on that goal,” said MSG Networks analyst Bryce Salvador.

[Watch Devils-Lightning Game 3 Monday on MSG, MSG+ & MSG GO]

Now the Devils have to construct a plan in time for the Saturday afternoon second game rematch in Tampa Bay so that New Jersey can climb back into the series.

“The Devils go into Saturday’s game knowing that they can play with Tampa Bay,” added MSG Networks Devils analyst Ken Daneyko. “They just have to fix a few things.”

They must shape up and ship out the mistakes that cost them a chance for a quick lead in the tourney. Most of the errors were committed in their own end.

“New Jersey was sloppy around their net,” added Daneyko. “At times, they seemed out of synch. But there were a lot of positives.”

For sure, one was the Devils’ MVP, Taylor Hall. He skated like a dynamo, scoring the first Devils’ goal and assisting on the second by Travis Zajac on the third-period power play.

But the surge wasn’t enough. The Lightning did enough to halt New Jersey’s counterattack and then did what good teams do, annex the game.

“Tampa is fast, tenacious and strong on the puck,” said New Jersey’s coach John Hynes. “But we’ll regroup and be ready for them on Saturday.”

Nevertheless, the Lightning had more speed, more puck possession and, in the end, more effective checking up and down the line.

In the first period, Bolts coach Jon Cooper seemed to shoot his players out of a cannon, the way they dominated every inch of the ice.

Devils backline breakdowns late in the first period punctured their previously punctual efforts. From that point on playing catch-up proved too challenging against a sextet skating at top speed from the opening face-off.

In all cases, Keith Kinkaid — he previously kept the game scoreless with a number of early outstanding saves — was victimized by absent defenders and a touch of bad luck.

“I chalk it up to playoff nerves,” said Daneyko. “Too often, they were caught looking at the puck.”

[Read More From Stan Fischler]

Exiting the first period down 2-0, the Garden Staters had their hands full breaking the spirit of Andrei Vasilevskiy between the Bolts’ pipes.

Tyler Johnson’s early second-period power play goal threatened to open the floodgates for Tampa Bay, but Hall notched his first playoff goal late in the second to turn this into a reasonably close game.

Zajac made it a one-goal game on the power play with more than half the third period to go. But, to their credit, the home skaters tightened the noose and suffocated the visitors until the Killorn goal effectively ended the game.

“I liked our game after the first period,” said Zajac, “but we have to learn from the mistakes. We did a lot of good things in the second and third periods.

“We had good push-back. We played fast and our power play was good even when we didn’t score. You don’t lose the series in Game 1.”

Changes in the lineup are likely in Game 2. Kinkaid likely will get the nod, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Cory Schneider could be introduced to shake up the troops.

“There’ll be tweaks,” predicted Daneyko, “but Hynes won’t blow up the lineup.”

Dissecting the defeat, ex-Lightning-current-Devil Brian Boyle called it “Too little, too late.” However, looking ahead, he believes that there’s cause for optimism.

“It’s a learning experience for a lot of (young) guys,” Boyle explained.

Ironically, Tampa sharpshooter Steven Stamkos was held scoreless while less-heralded Yanni Gourde tormented the Devils throughout but especially with the game-winning goal on the power play following a Miles Wood penalty.

“In Game 2, we have to be ready right off the bat,” said Hall. “The quicker we can get to our fast game, the better it will be for us.”

LOOKING AHEAD: Scratched in Game 1, defenseman Damon Severson could be moved back into the lineup. More far-fetched would be a goalie change.

TURNING POINT: Just when it appeared New Jersey might pull up to a 3-3 tie in the third, a Gourde feed to Alex Killorn set up the cushion goal after which the game was sealed with an open-netter.

EVALUATING KINKAID: While some critics claim that with the Devils tilting the ice at the 3-2 point, New Jersey’s goalie should be faulted for not stopping the Killorn shot, Keith was screened and the shot was deadly. It says here Kinkaid will start on Saturday.

CONCLUSION: There’s an old saying, “Genius will out.” In the end, the Lightning had more will and a little extra genius. The Devils came close, but in Cigar-town, no stogie!

[Watch Devils-Lightning Game 3 Monday on MSG, MSG+ & MSG GO]