Bolts Prove to be Devils’ Kill-Joys

Brinksmanship is now the game being played by the Devils and it’s not unlike the guy who said, “My name is Cliff, drop over some time!”

Another loss on Saturday at Tampa Bay and the dream of advancing to the second playoff round will vanish faster than the last Zamboni at Prudential Center.

[WATCH: Does Kucherov Hit on Vatanen Deserve a Suspension?]

Down 3-1, the Garden Staters will have to find the formula in Florida that produced their one victory on Monday night at The Rock.

Defeated 3-1 — the third with an open net — by an aroused bunch of Bolts, the Devils slowly but perceptively faded at home on Wednesday night after Sami Vatanen was pancaked by Nikita Kucherov late in the opening period.

“It was a heck of a ‘hockey play,” Bolts coach Jon Cooper claimed.

“I won’t comment on it,” offered his opposite on the Devils, John Hynes.

MSG Network’s Joe Micheletti, who called the game for NBC,  and about 16,000 other witnesses disagreed with Cooper on the grounds that such a clop to the head more likely deserves an NHL review; maybe even a suspension.

“It was a right shoulder to the left side of the head,” was the way Micheletti commented on the air.

Forced to play with five defensemen, Hynes had to revolve his backliners as best he could, but by the third period, it was clear that they — and the offense — had run out of gas.

“Our power play didn’t do what it needed — that’s really the story of the game,” said Taylor Hall, who notched an assist on the Devils’ lone goal — a 5-on-3 tally by Kyle Palmieri early in the first period.

He’s right because after that goal the Devils had 1:50 with a 5-on-4 situation which came to nothing at all. That turned out to be a killer.

Getting that reprieve, the Lightning counterattacked three minutes later and wound up with the pair of red lights that eventually would be enough to win the game.

Ex-Ranger J.T. Miller finished off a smooth odd-man rush assisted by linemates Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

Next Kucherov, Tampa Bay’s resident MVP, picked up a loose puck in the slot and snapped it over Cory Schneider‘s right shoulder at 15:02.

From that point on, the game remained 2-1 right down to Kucherov’s open-netter at 18:52 of the third after Schneider got yanked for a sixth skater.

[WATCH: Does Kucherov Hit on Vatanen Deserve a Suspension?]

Once Hall was muzzled, the remainder of the Devils’ offense failed to deliver. Most spectacular were breakaways by Travis Zajac in the first period and Patrick Maroon, which came to naught.

“Their goalie (Andrei Vasilevskiy) was fantastic,” Hynes opined.

Not that Schneider was a slouch. After Kucherov’s goal at 15:02 of the first frame, the Devils had two periods-and-change to tie the count, but came up with zilch.

“The Lightning played its best game of the series 5-on-5,” Hall added, “and we had a hard time generating sustained offense.

“It wasn’t a great game by us, but it wasn’t terrible. In the playoffs, that’s just not going to get you wins.”

Hynes would not be lured into criticizing the officiating starting with the non-call on Kucherov for kayo-ing Vatanen out of the game; perhaps even the series.

On another occasion, Vasilevskiy kicked the goal post off its moorings while the Devils came close to scoring and escaped without a delay-of-game penalty.

That said, it could not excuse the Devils whose otherwise feeble power play went 1-for-6; the only one coming with a two-man advantage.

Missing from the Devils’ arsenal was some good, old-fashioned hitting; particularly since the sellout crowd was hoping for some retribution against Victor Hedman’s uncalled spear of Nico Hischier in the Monday game.

Some of the better New Jersey efforts came on their penalty kill which went 5-for-5 with defenseman Ben Lovejoy and forward Blake Coleman particularly effective.

“We’re comfortable in this spot being the underdog,” said Lovejoy. “Now we need to go out and win a game in Tampa and play our best game.”

Schneider, who played an otherwise solid game despite the loss, maintains that a comeback is possible on Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena.

“We have a tough task ahead of us,” Cory concluded, “and our goal is to bring it back here!”

In other words, they’re at cliff’s edge but not over.

At least not yet!

UPON FURTHER REVIEW

HOW TO WIN ON SATURDAY:

The Devils must play a man-to-man tougher game; cleanly targeting the likes of Hedman and Kucherov in particular. If they go down, they must go down fighting, not with fists but with spirit.

“We’re a very resilient team,” captain Andy Greene explained. “Everyone’s been counting us out from Day One and that hasn’t changed. Now, with our backs up against the wall, we have to come out and come out hard on Saturday.”

“You just leave your cards on the table and shove ’em all in,” Hall asserted. “Just go for it. We don’t really have an option.”

BEST GOAL: Palmieri’s power-play goal in the first; a one-timer from the left circle during the 5-on-3.

BEST SAVES: Schneider’s two rapid-fire saves on Brayden Point and Braydon Coburn at 14:26 of the second period and Vasilevskiy’s sprawling pad save to deny Patrick Maroon on a breakaway at 3:44 of the second.

MOST CONTROVERSIAL: Kucherov’s questionable hit on Vatanen with four minutes left in the first that sent the Devils D-man to the locker room for the remainder of the game.

TURNING POINT: Kucherov escaping without a penalty after his destruction of Vatanen.

[WATCH: Does Kucherov Hit on Vatanen Deserve a Suspension?]

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.