This time, Goliath won.
The 3-1 defeat (last goal an open-netter) Saturday afternoon at the Lightning’s Amalie Arena surprised few. Most observers thought the behemoth Bolts would sweep the series. Winning one game was a good sign for New Jersey.
But on Saturday afternoon, the Devils couldn’t manage to score that second goal which would have tied the game, although they came perilously close near the end.
Patrick Maroon‘s deflected goal with three minutes left in the game — and Schneider pulled for an extra skater — symbolized New Jersey’s never-say-die effort.
Near the climactic end, Travis Zajac came close to knotting the game, but goalie Andrej Vasilevskiy intervened and by the time Ryan Callahan potted the Bolts’ third goal, it all was irrelevant.
Why did the Devils lose?
For starters, first-place Tampa Bay had the ability to blend good goaltending with a determined defense and superior scoring that eventually drained what gas was left in the Devils’ grit-and-goal machine.
Oh, boy did lack of discipline hurt the Garden Staters. Actually, proved fatal in the end.
Taking five straight penalties over two periods before the Lightning even was tagged with its one and only minor thoroughly disrupted any chance for the Devils to organize a sustained attack.
“If it wasn’t for Schneider’s excellent goaltending,” said Joe Micheletti, “the score would have been much higher.”
Cory never saw the first-period long shot by defenseman Mikhail Sergachev because of the mob scene outside his crease.
“There were so many players in front of him,” added Micheletti, “Schneider didn’t have a chance. As it was, that puck went through like it was threading a needle.”
But the game was young and immediately thereafter, Jesper Bratt — outstanding in his first playoff game — just missed tying the score. Taylor Hall followed with another Devils opportunity that finally fizzled.
Escaping the first frame only down by one, the Devils still had two full periods to counterattack. Instead, the successive penalties — starting with Pavel Zacha at 5:05 — only served to reiterate that New Jersey’s PK is A-1.
Through the whole, ugly sequence, the PK men held off the Bolts’ best while Schneider did the rest.
“Ten minutes of playing shorthanded is 17-percent of the game killing penalties,” analytics expert Jonathan Liss explained. “That was not good.”
When the home club finally was penalized in the third period, it was still a one-goal game. But errant passing mostly defused the power-play advantage, although Bratt and Palmieri almost had the red light glowing. Almost.
What the Devils lacked from there to the curtain-dropper was what Tampa Bay had in abundance — puck possession.
The third-period winning goal by Nikita Kucherov was a product of possession — until the puck was skimmed to Kucherov at the blue line. Tampa’s ace could have been thwarted, that’s for sure.
Kucherov was shadowed by Brian Boyle, but the Russian went around him like BB was a light pole and then beat Schneider with a steaming blast into the right corner.
With 3:32 remaining, Hynes pulled Schneider and — thanks to Maroon — it was a one-goal game again.
Unfortunately, adhesive Lightning checks foiled most of New Jersey’s final thrusts although Zajac almost had what would have been a glorious tying counter.
And that was that.
A season that was splendid beyond expectations has ended. The music stopped, but the melody lingered on and nobody put it better than Micheletti.
“Congratulations to the New Jersey Devils,” was the way he punctuated his analysis. “This is a team that wasn’t given a chance to make the playoffs by anyone — and they had a phenomenal season!”
The Maven seconds the motion.
HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS:
HURTING HALL: The endless succession of penalties especially kept Hall from galloping as he had in the first three games. In one sequence, the Devils were without a shot for almost a dozen minutes.
HATS OFF TO BRATT: Bratt was scratched from the lineup in Games 1-4, but finally made it in the finale. He was a non-stop hustler throughout and was one of the precious few New Jersey attackers to threaten the Bolts’ defense and goaltender.
WHERE’S THE BEEF: For the second straight game, the Devils were significantly outmuscled. “The Lightning was hitting them left, right and center,” noted New York Hockey Journal Devils beat writer Leo Scaglione, Jr. “Instead of responding, the Jersey guys were falling down; literally and figuratively.”
FORECHECKING FAILURES: The Lightning endlessly swarmed into Schneider’s zone like a posse of marshals in pursuit of a bandit. The relentless pressure forced the Devils’ D-Men into mistakes only to be rectified by Cory’s capable puck-stopping.
NJ HEROES: Apart from Schneider, the adroit penalty-killers batted a thousand. They killed all 10 penalties in the last two games. Hats off to Zajac, Greene, Blake Coleman, Ben Lovejoy, Nico Hischier and Brian Gibbons. Will Butcher and Mirco Mueller also delivered honorable efforts.
Sami Vatanen is forced to leave Game 4 of the Devils-Lightning series after taking a heavy hit from the Lightning's Nikita Kucherov.
But, in the end, it simply was a case of “Genius will out.” The Bolts had the genius along with the will. Hynes’ Heroes had the will but, sadly, not the goals!