Can Taylor Hall’s Devils Defy the Odds and Bolts?

It’s not about the guys out of your lineup.
It’s about the performance of the guys
in your lineup. — Devils coach John Hynes

Since the Devils have made a season out of fooling the experts who tagged them as cellar-dwellers, the time has come for some more Hynes-variety tomfoolery.

After all, the Lightning figure to wrap up their opening series against New Jersey today at Amalie Arena for more reasons than you have fingers on your hand.

1. They lead the series 3-1.

2. A home crowd will move them to even greater heights.

3. Tampa’s goaltending has been superior.

4. Their defense is strong enough and is more adroit, all-around, than New Jersey’s D-core.

5. Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn, et. al. provide more firepower than Hynes’ shooters.

6. The Bolts have a strategy to corral New Jersey’s ace, Taylor Hall.

However, the Devils beg to differ.

Matter of fact they’ve been differing all season.

That explains why — against all odds — they made the playoffs and, more recently, smacked down the Lightning in Game 3 at The Rock.

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However, in that one New Jersey triumph, Sami Vatanen emerged as the club’s best defenseman and a key pivot on the power play.

Since the torpedoing of Vatanen by that Southern Submarine, Kucherov, Vatanen cannot be expected to be a factor for coach John Hynes if he plays at all.

But we know that all teams lose stars one way or another and still manage to win. On Thursday night, minus top forward Patrice Bergeron, Boston beat Toronto at Air Canada Centre, 3-1.

Compensating one way or another for the Vatanen Effect, Hynes no doubt will juggle his lineup or, as he likes to say, “It’s next man up.”

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

Meanwhile, The Main Man, heavy-shooting Hall, has to magically emerge from the trap set on Wednesday by Bolts coach Jon Cooper that manacled New Jersey’s ace to a point where he manufactured just one shot on goal.

“We’re focused on one thing right now,” said Hall, “and that’s a win and getting back to Jersey.”

Hall has been averaging almost 21 minutes per game with two goals and four assists over the four contests.

His linemates in Game 4, as has been the case for the past month or so, were center Nico Hischier and right wing Kyle Palmieri. That could change in the upcoming cliffhanger.

Hischier has become an issue since he became a prime physical target in the last two outings and at times appeared exhausted.

The same could not be said for veteran Travis Zajac, the club’s crack defensive center who flunked on a first-period breakaway on Wednesday.

Assigned to the first penalty-killing unit, Zajac plays almost as many minutes as Hall. And, in Game 3 — New Jersey’s only win so far — Travis was on the ice for 24:23.

His priority will be shutting down the Bolts’ flying corps if such a feat is possible.

“The Lightning play with a lot of speed,” Zajac told NHL.com’s Shawn Roarke, “and are tenacious on the puck. I can’t take any time off against them, and that’s where it’s mentally and physically draining.”

Minus Vatanen, Ben Lovejoy played one of his best games in a Jersey uniform on Wednesday. He’s expected to get big minutes again.

“We need to play our best game,” Lovejoy insisted, “and we need to spark doubt in them.”

One way to do that is by scoring more than on a five-on-three power play against goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, as was the case in Game 4.

“I don’t know he (Vasilevskiy) has been the difference,” said Hynes. “He hasn’t really given up bad goals or a goal when you get a bounce. When we’ve had to beat him, we’ve had to score good goals.”

Speaking of puckstoppers, it appears that Hynes will go back to Cory Schneider for the veteran’s third straight game, rather than Keith Kinkaid.

“There’s a little more on the line here,” Schneider understated, “but we can’t alter everything we do. We just have to dig a little deeper and come up with one win and go from there.

“Our Game 3 was really good and Game 4 wasn’t quite as good as we think we can be. We have to be a lot better if we’re going to take one in their building.”

The Devils look ahead to their must win game in Tampa and what it will take to stay alive in the series.

“Cory has made some good saves,” the coach observed, “and he’s looked more confident in the net. He’s playing a calm game and he’s controlling his rebounds really well.”

Hynes’ demeanor now is considerably cooler than it was following Game 4.

After the last loss, his replies were limited to one or two words. But that’s history now.

Hynes can find a silver lining in the cloud of elimination hanging over his team.

“We’re right there,” he concluded. “We’re prepared and let’s get at it.”

If you hear an echo, it’s the Lightning saying almost the same thing!

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.