Devils Return Home Seeking Answers

Florida vacations are no fun if you happen to come home with an excessive sunburn.

Ditto for hockey trips to Tampa Bay if you happen to be the Devils and return to New Jersey down two games to nil with Game 3 coming up on Monday in Newark.

[Watch Game 3 Monday at 7 PM on MSG, MSG+ & MSG GO]

Scathed 5-3 in another too-little-too-late rally on Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena, John Hynes’ skaters will rush to stem a tide that’s turning into a tsunami against them.

Hoped-for hero Keith Kinkaid was scarred with five goals on 15 shots before being yanked in favor of Cory Schneider. Yet Kinkaid was far from being the goat.

Not that the Devils are buried in Hopeless Town. Jetting home, the Locals could find silver linings in the Newark sky.

Rookie Nico Hischier scored his first playoff goal to tie the game 1-1 in the first period. Taylor Hall was a veritable ferret on the spoor of a loose puck.

Despite being victimized on one goal, defenseman Sami Vatanen scored on a sizzler. Rookie Will Butcher played like a vet and ever-reliable Travis Zajac never quit.

The Maven predicts that Schneider will start on Monday. He looked sharp in relief after Kinkaid was pulled.

No matter how Kinkaid’s minus-five goals are rationalized — and those scores already have been — a change between the pipes will be refreshing if nothing else.

Naturally, there remains a minority bloc believing that it would be unjust and — yes again, ironic — to not return with the bewitched, bothered and bewildered Kinkaid.

As Joe Micheletti put it during the broadcast, “Kinkaid didn’t allow a bad goal in the game.”

I disagree. On the opening score, he unnecessarily went down into “butterfly” position too soon, leaving plenty of room upstairs for Brayden Point to pointedly beat him under the crossbar.

That untimely early goal is poisonous against the Lightning since Tampa Bay has the NHL’s best winning record when scoring first.

This much is certain; the hill that confronted Newark’s underdogs at the start of the series now looks like Mount Everest.

“We’re energized,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper, whose only concern was an injury to Ryan Callahan.

He didn’t need Cally; not with such a well-spread offense and an across-the-board crew that often out-hit the Devils throughout the contest.

It didn’t hurt Cooper’s corps that the Bolts also had Lady Luck on their side.

With the score tied 1-1 in the second period and New Jersey outshooting and often out-playing the foe, defenseman Ben Lovejoy was hauled off for firing the puck over the glass. This was an “Oy Vay” play that shouldn’t have happened.

Looking backward, this miscue torpedoed the Good Ship New Jersey.

The punishment that followed was a power-play goal by Devils-killer Alex Killorn and it was downhill for the Visitors after that.

Insult was added to injury later in the period when a centering pass from Nikita Kucherov pinballed off Vatanen’s skate-stick, Kinkaid’s pads and over the goal line.

That wasn’t all. On Killorn’s second goal in the middle frame, Kinkaid inexplicably lost his stick and looked like a beached walrus when — thanks to the ubiquitous Killer Killorn — the rubber finally sailed over capsized Keith and into the twine.

By contrast, Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy played well enough, frustrating a Devils third-period comeback attempt with — among other breath-takers — a keeper on a Miles Wood breakaway midway in the final period.

One of my favorite hockey doctors, Mr. Micheletti, himself, offers a prescription for Hynes when he holds his next team meeting at Prudential Center before Game 3.

“New Jersey can’t give Tampa Bay free power plays,” said Joe alluding to Lovejoy’s over-the-glass penalty and an unsportsmanlike minor later in the game to Kyle Palmieri leading to another devastating PP goal.

“And the Devils can’t give them the kind of chances the Lightning have gotten so far in this series.”

Good advice, to be sure, but when next I meet Joltin’ Joe, The Maven will ask him just how one goes about implementing his prescriptions.

It’s really too bad that Number One Devils fan Yogi Berra isn’t around anymore. The Yankees’ Hall of Fame catcher would enter the Devils’ room with his favorite corny kernel: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

On to Game 3 and, hopefully, a rejuvenated Devils comeback that on Saturday had Dr. Micheletti breaking the sound barrier as he called the Garden Staters “RELENTLESS” in the third period.

But, really, the bottom line bromide that sums up New Jersey’s performance over two games comes down to four little words — too little, too late!

SOURCES OF HOPE:

  • GOALIE CHANGE: Starting Schneider — after a superior third period — could lead to a psychological as well as well an artistic improvement.
  • INDOMITABLE SPIRIT: Despite being down 5-1, the scrappy Devils fought back to make it a 5-3 game. With eight minutes remaining in the third period, they had the Bolts in disorderly retreat. Only Vasilevskiy saved the day for Tampa Bay.
  • HOME ICE: A rip-roaring Rock will galvanize the home club. This could be a difference-maker.
  • BIG GAMES: While Hall was the most prominent on the NJ offense, Hischier, Vatanen, Wood, Blake Coleman — he scored the third goal — and Butcher excelled at one time or another.
  • FRESH FACES: Hynes could return the hard-driving Jesper Bratt to the lineup and scratch the player he believes is contributing least.

[Watch Game 3 Monday at 7 PM on MSG, MSG+ & MSG GO]