Devils Look To Even Series At The Rock

“Fear is a reaction; courage is a decision.” – Winston Churchill

The Devils have no fear, but a surplus of courage.

And they’ll build off that intrepidity heading for Game 4 of their first-round series with Tampa Bay tonight at Prudential Center.

[Coverage of Game 4 Begins at 7 PM on MSG, MSG+ & MSG GO]

The Devils look ahead to what they know will be a tough battle in Game 4 against the Lightning.

The gallantry displayed in winning 5-2 on Monday night at The Rock is becoming contagious within the home club’s dressing room, on the bench and the ice.

Call it bravery, call it valor or resoluteness, such Garden Staters as Cory Schneider, Marcus Johansson and Taylor Hall epitomized these traits in the pulsating triumph on Monday.

But that’s ancient history. Every game is different and the fourth one figures to be a dilly.

“It’s going to be intense,” Hall predicted. “We’re a team that has to get emotionally involved to play well. The team that’s the smartest tonight — takes the fewest penalties — probably wins the game.

“We can’t feed their power-play because it’s so dangerous. Likewise, we have to stay emotionally on an even-keel. Playing hockey 5-on-5 is the game suited for us.”

Trailing the series 2-1– instead of 3-0 — coach John Hynes‘ skaters next can turn what was feared to be a tourney rout just days ago into an even-steven battle.

Leading the leaders and making his dramatic playoff debut was Schneider, who successfully fought off mid-third period cramps that almost sent him to the showers.

Schneider re-paid Hynes for showing faith in his ability by delivering a club-inspiring performance that had the sellout crowd often chanting “COH-REE, COH-REE” from the first period to the final buzzer.

“Good things happen to really good people (like Schneider),” said Hynes. “His communication with the coaching staff, his work ethic, he always put the team first. He came in and played a heck of a game.”

Less prominent names — Stefan Noesen and Blake Coleman for example — have become big-gamers as well as their linemate, the veteran Travis Zajac.

“Trav is one of the smartest guys in the league,” said Noesen, “because he sees the play so well.

“Coley is so tenacious and all over the ice. He doesn’t run out of energy, which can make up for any sort of mistake as he’s back in the same position right away.”

Then there was the long-awaited return of Johansson, who even surprised his coach with his indomitable play in all areas of the ice.

[Coverage of Game 4 Begins at 7 PM on MSG, MSG+ & MSG GO]

“We all know how effective Marcus can play,” enthused Hynes, “but he was better than I had expected, considering this was his first game back.”

As for Hall, he was all over the place, tireless and tenacious. After Alex Killorn put the visitors ahead early in the second on a power play, Hall returned the favor just past the game’s half-way point with the tying goal.

“It was great to see us get on the board,” Hall observed. “We needed a jump, a spark. Personally, it was nice to see a goal go in on home ice.”

Ditto for the cool-calm-collected play of rookie defenseman Will Butcher, whose third-period power play goal proved the catalyst for a strong third-period push by the locals.

“Will came through for us, not only on offense,” said Hynes, “but he also played a solid game in his own end.”

More and more it seems as if Butcher is doing — although with less fuss and fanfare — on defense what Hall is doing up front. Despite enemy attempts to hermetically seal his offensive thrusts, Taylor keeps baffling the Bolts.

“Every time Taylor’s got the puck,” said teammate center Zajac, “he’s not trying to slow down to make a play, he’s speeding up.”

If there was any specific area in which the Devils surpassed the Lightning in Game 3, it was effort. It has been a product of Hynes’ mantra from Day One and remains so in this thrilling first round.

“To win in the playoffs you can’t just be average,” Hynes insisted. “You can’t just play. You need to have good performances. In our win, we had more guys make a difference than the first two games.”

Belligerence, which played a significant part in Game 3, figures to reappear as the tightening series continues to unfold.

Right to the end of Game 3 meanness was evident, including a one-on-one near-game-ending clash between Devils vet Brian Boyle and young d-man Mikhail Sergachev. They ignited a melee that erupted just before the final buzzer.

“We have to turn the page,” Boyle argued. “Our mentality and focus was good and we have to continue that tonight.”

If the Devils discovered any softness in the Bolts armor it could — surprisingly — be on defense, penalty-killing and faceoffs. Coach Jon Cooper’s club heavily relies on an explosive offense which — at least on Monday — was defused by the Devs.

Make no mistake, the 5-2 final score was the acme of deception.

We’re talking about a 3-2 game down to the last minute of the third period when underrated Blake Coleman hoisted a seeing-eye puck from his embattled end of the rink that just barely sneaked inside the left goal post with 57 seconds left.

That bit of open net legerdemain had an encore 20 seconds later when defenseman Ben Lovejoy put a final stamp on the Bolts hopes with a similar shot only this time down the middle.

Coleman is surfacing as one of the “Secondary Scorers” — much like Noesen who tallied the game-winner on a sweetheart cross-ice pass from Hall at 12:55 of the third.

Talking about Coleman, Hynes might as well be lauding Noesen.

“Blake really played to the way we want to play as a team,” Hynes concluded. “He’s an ‘identity’ player for us. It was nice for him to get rewarded for his hard work and thankless job that he does shift in and shift out.”

Nobody has to tell any Devil, especially Coleman, about the Bolts ever-dangerous penalty-kill, which is the best reason for Hynes’ skaters to stay out of the sin bin.

“Tampa moves the puck so well,” Coleman explained. “So far they’ve been beating our pressure, which normally is one of our strongest suits.

“We have to make better reads, know when to be aggressive, when to sit on it and block shots.”

Win or lose, Winston Churchill would love this Devils team for its guts, goals and glamour.

The trick now is to make it two in a row– although the Lightning might disagree.

[Coverage of Game 4 Begins at 7 PM on MSG, MSG+ & MSG GO]