The Devils Are Down But Not Out

Down two games to none against arguably the National Hockey League’s best team, the Devils are in a reality show that could get worse if they don’t shape up in a hurry.

The reality in this opening playoff round is that the steamrolling Lightning, led by captain Steven Stamkos, is strong in all areas and the Garden Staters are not.

“We have the depth of four lines,” said Stamkos, “and all four can chip in and score.”

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

True enough, since the Bolts didn’t finish first by accident. But New Jersey’s ace-of-aces, Taylor Hall, remains optimistic and is armed with a couple of real reasons.

“In the first two games,” said Hall, “we’ve shown not only that we can play with them but also play the way we want to play. Add to that the fact that on home ice we can dictate the way we want to play.”

Taylor Hall talks about heading back home to The Rock for Game 3 and why the Devils are not out of the series yet.

Hall certainly has fulfilled his notices and, in a Sunday afternoon conference call, coach John Hynes singled out others who’ve pleased him.

“Both of our rookies, Nico (Hischier) and Will (Butcher) have been among our better guys. They’ve both risen to the occasion.”

Hynes declared this morning that Cory Schneider will start in goal and that defenseman Mirco Mueller will be scratched from the lineup. He is also inserting forwards Drew Stafford and Marcus Johansson.

“Cory has been a big part of our team,” Hynes explained. “I’ve never wavered once — even down the stretch into the playoffs. We have two very good goaltenders. Keith played extremely well. We’re not taking Keith out because he was playing badly. It’s just that we have two guys who can both help us win.

“It’s an opportunity for Cory to get back in the net. He came in and played well the other night; which was good to see.”

Hynes hopes his club emerges with vim, vigor and vitality.

“We haven’t had great starts,” he added. “We’ve played from behind but there have been pockets in the game where we’ve played very well. Tampa has played very well. They found ways to score more than we have in certain situations. Their power play has been a big factor.”

Coach John Hynes discusses the aspects of the Devils' game that need to improve and whether he will make any lineup changes for Game 3.

Regarding the insertion of Johansson, Hynes noted that the oft-injured right wing has excellent poise with the puck. “He’s got a good hockey sense and can make plays under pressure. He understands time and space when he has it and when he doesn’t.”

Not surprisingly, the big Swede is delighted to be back in the lineup. “It’s a big relief,” he said. “It had been frustrating watching from the sidelines. It’s been a long time and I’m just happy to go.”

When all is said and done, Schneider is the main man now and nobody knows it more than Cory.

“It’s a hugely important game for us,” he summarized, “and it’s on me to set the tone, make the saves early and do what I have to do to give us a good opportunity to play our game and win.”

[Fischler: Devils Return Home Seeking Answers]

Looking ahead to Game 3 at The Rock tonight, Hynes has X-Rayed his body of performers and identified the prime culprits as well as the overall weakness.

“What we have to do is play a more thorough game,” he declared. “By ‘more thorough’ I mean not just playing well in pockets.”

In both losses, the Jersey arsenal awakened from its slumber only after Tampa Bay had reached its yawning period. But the Bolts awakened in time.

Sure, the Devils late rushes made the melodrama more drama than mellow but Lord Stanley never meant to award his Cup to clubs that come close but still lose.

Let’s face it, New Jersey has not been getting the kind of hockey it requires from Ben Lovejoy and Mirco Mueller on defense, not to mention Pavel Zacha and Michael Grabner up front, and that’s just for starters.

I couldn’t see Grabner being benched because he can come right back and be an asset on the penalty-kill and elsewhere.

Formidable as he has been at times, Kinkaid is batting oh-for-two in the playoffs.

Hynes is giving Kinkaid a furlough while re-establishing Schneider as crease-king. No question, the Devils need a game-stealer between the pipes.

Captain Andy Greene points to what he — and Hynes — regard as a more prevailing problem that helped cost his team the second game; lack of discipline.

One example was a third-period unsportsmanlike penalty to Kyle Palmieri.

“We need to be better controlling our emotions,” said Greene. “Toe the line but don’t go over it; but right up against it.”

Hynes noted that a couple of his men were guilty of what he termed “controllable” moves that cost his club. One that he cited was Lovejoy’s delay of game penalty when the defenseman shot the puck over the glass.

Meanwhile, the Bolts are behaving like champs. They build a lead, dare the Devils to counterattack and hold on just long enough to squeeze victories.

They enjoy this luxury because their best lines have better depth than the Devils while their backliners have more experience and poise than Greene and Company.

When all else fails, the Bolts hard-to-spell and hard-to-beat goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has prevented his brush fires from turning into infernos.

That said, home ice could be Hynes’ tonic. Plus, correcting some of the correctable mistakes might bring a W instead of another L.

“In Game 1,” explained Greene, “we came out flat. In Game 2, we lost the game.”

Devils Captain Andy Greene talks about the sentiment in the locker room and the need to take fewer penalties.

Apart from Hall, good report cards belong to the indomitable Travis Zajac, who has yet to take a shift off, as well as linemates Blake Coleman and Stefan Noesen.

Ditto for Hischier who tied Game 2 just 1:25 after Brayden Point beat Kinkaid for the first goal. It also signaled that a forward other than Hall is capable of offensive impact.

Speaking of impact — as in physical — the Lightning held the edge in body-work; an element that must change now that Hynes’ skaters are home.

When all is said and done, the Devils would do well to remember the words of Hall of Fame Rangers boss Lester Patrick who uttered this truism a long time ago — “Hockey is a game of mistakes.”

If New Jersey makes fewer mistakes than Tampa Bay in Game 3, we’ll have a doozy of a series on our hands.

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