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Five observations from Game 2 between the New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning:
1. New Jersey started on time
In Game 1 the Devils were completely overwhelmed in the 1st period. They were sloppy with the puck and on their heels from the word go. By the end of the opening frame they found themselves in a 2-0 hole, which is extremely difficult to overcome on the road vs a No. 1 seed. In a way the game was over before it really got going.
Last night was a much different story. The Devils started on time and looked like a team that meant business. They were far from perfect – in particular, they struggled breaking out at times – but they recorded nine chances and held one of the most offensively gifted teams in the league to just six shots on goal. Though the score was tied, the 1st period realistically couldn't have gone much better.
2. Tampa's power play was lethal again
New Jersey was one of the better penalty killing teams in the league this season. They did a good job of not only limiting the chances generated by opponents, but creating some of their own. You wouldn't know it from watching the first two games of the series.
After going 2/3 on the power play last night, the Lightning are now 3/5 in the series. In 5:10 of power play time, they've generated eight chances and, again, scored three goals.
The Devils have no answer for their power play. Even though the Devils have mostly been disciplined, the Lightning's PP has been a massive factor thus far.
Realistically, it'll be tough for the Devils to take fewer penalties. They've done a good job of staying out of the box. They just need to be better when they do take penalties.
3. Nico Hischier didn't look like a rookie
I thought Nico Hischier was one of the best players from start to finish. Offensively, he was as dangerous as anyone piling up six chances and seven shot attempts to go along with his 1st career playoff goal. I really liked his play without the puck, too. He closed gaps quickly on the forecheck, he was assertive in board battles, and he always turned on an extra gear to make sure he provided back pressure and was in position defensively. Games like that are why many people think he could win a Selke one day. He makes mistakes at times – everyone does – but he is so committed to contributing in any way he can. Effort is never ever a question with him.
4. Sami Vatanen held his own vs top competition
In Game 1 Vatanen played more than eight minutes against Nikita Kucherov and co. and held them to one shot on goal.
He didn't play as much last night – likely due to seven defensemen dressing – but once again he garnered encouraging results vs Tampa's top trio.
In ~6:30 against them at 5v5, he posted a positive shot attempt differential and goal differential (plus-1).
They need Vatanen to fare similarly well at home ice when he's hard matched against that line.
5. Another goaltending controversy?
It's hard to blame Keith Kinkaid for the way things have gone over the first couple games. There have been some nice deflections scored against him. There's even been an own goal.
In saying that, he has allowed nine goals on 46 shots(!) and posted an .804 save percentage through ~90 minutes of work. It's pretty much impossible for the Devils to win a game, let alone a series, getting goaltending like that.
One period is one period but I thought Cory Schneider was terrific in the 3rd. He showed off the ridiculous athleticism we've grown accustomed to seeing while making a few highlight real saves. As a whole he looked sharper than he has at any time this calendar year.
It was a good reminder of just how good he can be. I think we'd all agree that when both goaltenders are at their best, Schneider's ceiling is higher. Right now the Devils need ceiling games and, for the first time in months, Schneider provided *some* reason to believe he can provide those.
There'd be some risk in starting him – he hasn't put together a single quality start since December – but I think it's one John Hynes has to strongly consider taking.
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