Devils Must Dish Out Retribution in Game 5

If one of our players should get injured by illegal tactics
of the enemy, I expect the players on our team to see that
the man responsible doesn’t get away with it. —
Conn Smythe, owner of the Maple Leafs, 1946.

The Leafs listened to their boss, punched back and won an unprecedented three straight Stanley Cups.

That should be a lesson for the Devils after two of their players were injured in Games 3 and 4, with the Lightning culprits getting away with it.

Namely Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov.

Setting the stage for Game 5 of the Bolts-Devs series on Saturday in Florida, critics are wondering whether the Jersey Boys have been too soft after being manhandled in successive games by The Vic and Nik Club.

Hedman blatantly speared rookie Nico Hischier in the groin on Monday at The Rock, escaping with neither penalty nor retribution from a Devil.

On Wednesday, defenseman Sami Vatanen‘s head was pulverized by Kucherov’s illegal elbow and Slingin’ Sam may miss tomorrow’s game in Tampa Bay.

The NHL’s warden George Parros took no action against the Rattling Russian nor did the Devils. That’s what’s puzzling to fans as well as veteran NJ Advance Media columnist Steve Politi.

“Why didn’t the Devils take matters into their own hands?” wrote Politi. “This team needs to get much tougher before its next playoff appearance. Tampa has beaten up on the Devils.”

No, the Devils are not dead yet, but they’ve been bruised, big-time and it’s about time a New Jersey muscleman or two delivered a statement in return.

Barely containing his anger over the 3-1 loss, coach John Hynes displayed a fierceness that now must be asserted by his players if the Garden Staters hope to stay alive at Amalie Arena.

In plain, Maven English, the Devils must get good and mad, but in a clean way.

They must collectively heighten their passion level far beyond that which was evident to the disappointed sellout crowd at The Rock. Apart from a win, what the fans wanted they didn’t get. Specifically:

1. RAZING HEDMAN: The crowd booed the Skating Skyscraper every time he touched the puck. They remembered his vicious spear of Hischier and expected the Devils to sock back. But the defenseman got nothing more than a love tap here and there, leaving him free to maul the foe.

2. PENALIZING KUCHEROV: After Tampa’s MVP head-bombed Vatanen, a seriously stern reaction was expected from Sami’s mates. It could have happened right after Vatanen was blitzed or any time later in the game. Instead, nothing and Kucherov’s goals won the game.

3. WHERE’S THE INTENSITY?: Devils leaders, from captain Andy Greene to Taylor Hall, must rally the troops and be sure that cheap shots are returned in the Conn Smythe manner.

4. ONE MORE SAVE AND ONE MORE PP GOAL: In his second game after a long sabbatical, Cory Schneider played well; but not well enough to steal the game. Likewise, New Jersey’s power play had five chances to get another goal after the 5-on-3 and came up with a goose egg.

What the Devils also needed big-time, they got — a day of rest. Whether that will help Vatanen’s recovery remains to be seen. It could help the overworked Hall and the kids, Hischier and Will Butcher.

Now’s the time for Hynes to insert fresh legs and he has them on the sidelines ready to go.

John Hynes addresses the media before the Devils face the Lightning in Game 5 of their first-round series, explaining his mentality and preparation.

They include defenseman Steve Santini as well as forwards Jesper Bratt and Michael Grabner.

As for the more scientific anti-Kucherov strategy, my personal guru, David Kolb, offers a compelling plan.

“Kucherov must be ‘marked’ at all times. Any Devils offensive line that’s on against Kucherov should try and gain as much offensive zone time as possible.

“Offense is the best defense against their top potent line. More grinding and cycling below the goal line is necessary.”

Season-long Devils-watcher Leo Scaglione, Jr., covering New Jersey for the New York Hockey Journal, wants to see Bratt on a line with Hall and Hischier.

“Move Kyle Palmieri on the line with Marcus Johansson and Pavel Zacha,” said Leo. “This balances the top lines and helps avoid the Bolts matchups.”

Scaglione remembered the Devs down 3-1 to Philly in the 2000 Eastern Conference Final when Larry Robinson scathed his club with invective. After absorbing the bawling out, the Devils went on to rally and win the series in seven.

Clearly, Jersey’s MVP Hall needs more help than he’s getting. Ticket-holder Jim Charshafian offered this. “The third-line grinder, Blake Coleman, can’t be your second-best forward against a talented team like Tampa.”

Frustrated but motivated, Hall had 17 shots through the first three games but only one on Wednesday.

Finally, Hynes still has a goaltending option; he could go back to Keith Kinkaid if he believes that the backup has a game-stealing performance left in his repertoire.

One more thought: Where’s the beef?

Conn Smythe knew where to find it; now it’s Hynes’ challenge!