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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3:
1. Cory Schneider starting
Though Cory Schneider hasn't won a game this calendar year, he is expected to get the nod in goal in a pivotal Game 3. And you know what? I agree with it.
Keith Kinkaid had a fantastic run. It was always a question of when, not if, it would end, though. Not that the first two games were Kinkaid's fault, but there were signs to suggest that was happening.
When both goaltenders are at their best, Schneider is the better option. He has the higher ceiling. To have a chance against a team like Tampa Bay, the Devils need to maximize their ceiling and I think starting Schneider does that.
Hopefully his excellent 3rd period in Game 2 gave him enough confidence to get back on track.
2. Sami Vatanen vs TB1
Sami Vatanen didn't play a *ton* vs Tampa Bay's top players over the first two games. When he did, the results were positive.
In a hair under 15 minutes vs Steven Stamkos, the Devils out-attempted the Lightning 17-11 (60.71%) and out-scored them 1-0.
That's not a massive sample size but it's encouraging Vatanen more than held his own against Stamkos and co. considering he'll be seeing a lot more of them in New Jersey.
John Hynes has last change in his back pocket and I expect his primary use will be getting Vatanen out against those guys as much as possible.
3. Marcus Johansson returns
Taylor Hall. Nico Hischier. Patrick Maroon. Miles Wood. Those are the only four Devils who averaged more 5v5 points/60 than Johansson in the regular season.
Johansson's totals didn't pop off the page – partly due to a low on-ice shooting percentage and some early season power play issues – but he was quietly productive at 5v5 and played better than a lot of people gave him credit for
Secondary scoring has been an issue for much of the year, and early on in the playoffs, so getting Johansson back is a nice little boost for a Devils team that could use it.
4. Penalty killing
Discipline hasn't necessarily been an issue for the Devils in this series. They've taken just five penalties. The problem is the Lightning have effortlessly converted on them potting three goals in just over five minutes of ice while up a man.
The Devils have really focused on taking away Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov one-timers, which has given Alex Killorn some extra space to work in the slot and around the net. They have to find a way to close that off.
5. Top line vs Dan Girardi
Despite Girardi's primary partner being Victor Hedman, Jon Cooper managed to hide Girardi extremely well in Tampa Bay. He spent just 4:40 going head-to-head with Taylor Hall and even less vs Nico Hischier.
With John Hynes now controlling the matchups, he should be able to get his top guys more ice against Girardi. They need to take advantage of that because the Lightning don't have many soft spots in their lineup.
Here are the projected lineups:
Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri
Marcus Johansson - Pavel Zacha - Patrick Maroon
Blake Coleman - Travis Zajac - Stefan Noesen
Miles Wood - Brian Boyle - Drew Stafford
Andy Greene - Sami Vatanen
John Moore - Damon Severson
Will Butcher - Ben Lovejoy
Tampa Bay (via DailyFaceoff.com)
J.T. Miller - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson
Yanni Gourde - Anthony Cirelli - Alex Killorn
Chris Kunitz - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan/Matthew Peca
Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev
Puck drop is just after 7:30 p.m. Eastern and can be seen on CNBC, SN, MSG+, FS-F, and TVAS2.
Note: data via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey.
Five observations from Game 2
Five observations from Game 1
Eastern Conference playoff predictions: Round 1
Western Conference playoff predictions: Round 1