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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in their first playoff game since 2012.
1. Keith Kinkaid
Though the Devils won all three meetings against the Lightning in the regular season, it wasn't because the latter didn't play well. They averaged more than 41 shots and 37 chances per game. They just didn't get quality goaltending while the Devils, well, did.
If the Devils are going to have any success in this series, they need that to continue. The Lightning have a *ton* of firepower. They're going to get more than their share of chances, which means Kinkaid has to continue running hot.
2. Target Dan Girardi
He was once a really solid player. That's no longer the case. Giradi has lost a step, he is not an effective puck mover, and he is not good at preventing zone entries, as evidenced by the graphic below.
For some reason, he has found his way onto the matchup pairing alongside Victor Hedman despite horrific results in more than 200 minutes together. That means he should see a lot of Taylor Hall.
If I'm Hall, or any other left winger/center sharing the ice with Girardi, I'm attacking him every chance I get. He isn't good at defending in the neutral zone and he bleeds entries. If there is a lot of back pressure from forwards, I'm throwing the puck deep into Girardi's corner and forcing him to make a play with it under pressure.
The Lightning are giving the Devils a matchup they should only be getting when John Hynes has last change at the Prudential Center. They have to take advantage of it.
3. New Jersey's PP vs Tampa Bay's PK
This is one of the most important matchups of the series.
The Lightning may not be perfect defensively but they still managed to post the league's best goal differential at 5v5. They did that while also showing the ability to consistently out-shoot and out-chance opponents. It will be tough for the Devils to beat them in that game state, which means they'll have to make up for it in other aspects of the game.
The most obvious is while on the power play. Over the final 25 games of the season, only Colorado, Boston and Toronto scored more on the man advantage.
On the other side of things, only Montreal allowed more power play goals than the Lighting over the last 25 games.
The Devils' power play is playing at a high level while the Lightning's penalty kill is heading south in a hurry. If that continues, the Devils just may be able to hang around.
4. The 2nd pairing
In effort to stabilize the defense, the coaching staff has gone with a John Moore - Mirco Mueller 2nd pairing of late.
There's only one problem: they're worse than the pairing they replaced.
At 5v5, the Devils controlled 49.3% of the shot attempts and 46.03% of the goals with the Moore - Severson pairing on the ice.
We're dealing with a much smaller sample size (91) minutes but the Devils have controlled just 47.2% of the shot attempts and 42.9% of the goals with the Moore - Mueller pairing out there.
I'm not at all sold on that duo and I think they could run into some serious problems against a team with as much firepower as the Lightning.
5. Michael Grabner
Grabner has been getting lots of chances, and breakaways, but the results just haven't been there. In 21 games since being acquired by the Devils, he has potted two goals.
This playoff series should be tailor made for him – it's all about speed – so perhaps he can snap out of his slump and produce like the Devils expected him to.
Here are the projected lineups:
Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri
Miles Wood - Pavel Zacha - Patrick Maroon
Blake Coleman - Travis Zajac - Stefan Noesen
Michael Grabner - Brian Boyle - Brian Gibbons
Andy Greene - Sami Vatanen
John Moore - Mirco Mueller
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
Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev
Puck drop is just after 7:00 p.m. Eastern and can be seen on MSG+, SUN, NHLN-US, SN and TVAS2.
Note: data via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey.
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