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Five things to watch when the New Jersey Devils take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5:
1. New Jersey's power play
The Devils have been out-chanced at 5v5 in all four games of the series. As such, it should be no surprise they're controlling just 42.24% of the chances in that game state – the lowest total of all teams still remaining in the playoffs.
With the high-end skill, and depth, the Lightning have, they're likely to continue carrying play at full-strength. That makes it even more imperative the Devils take advantage of their power play opportunities.
If it clicked, they could have won Game 4 and we'd be talking about a tied up series. It didn't, and now the Devils are on the brink of elimination.
The power play needs to be better.
2. Sami Vatanen's absence
Vatanen is unlikely to play today, which is very problematic for the Devils. He logs big minutes in all situations and has done a surprisingly good job defending against a likely Hart Trophy candidate in Nikita Kucherov.
The two have gone toe-to-toe for ~25 minutes during 5v5. The Devils out-shot the Lightning 15-10 and out-scored them 2-1 in that time.
In ~30 minutes Kucherov spent away from Vatanen, the Lightning held a 19-12 shot advantage and out-scored the Devils 1-0.
Even in Tampa Bay, John Hynes did a pretty good job of getting Vatanen out against their top line to try and limit the damage – and he did.
With Vatanen (likely) sidelined, the Devils really need Damon Severson, Ben Lovejoy, or whoever ends up patrolling the right side on the top pairing, to step up.
3. Taylor Hall
Hall is coming off a shockingly quiet performance in Game 4. The Devils recorded just one (1) scoring chance with him on the ice during 5v5 play. One! Things didn't go any better on the man advantage as, despite more than seven minutes of power play time, he finished with one (1) shot on target and zero (0) high-danger chances. The Lightning always have one, if not two, defenders breathing down his neck, which makes it awfully difficult for him to generate speed and get into attacking mode, but he has to find a way to create more space for himself and be more dangerous.
4. Secondary scoring
Though Hall needs to contribute more than in Game 4, it's not all on him by any means. He leads the Devils in 5v5 points (3) and chances (10). Andy Greene (2) is the only other player on the roster with more than one 5v5 point.
The Devils have gotten no secondary scoring at 5v5, where most of every game is played. Heck, they haven't even had much primary scoring. Nico Hischier has one point. Kyle Palmieri has zero points. Patrick Maroon has zero points. Pavel Zacha has zero points. Marcus Johansson, though he just returned, has zero points. Nobody has accomplished much of anything at 5v5. It's not realistic to expect a lot of offense at 5v5, but the Devils need to generate *some*.
5. Cory Schneider
He certainly hasn't looked like a guy with one win since the turn of the calendar. Through seven periods of play he owns a .951 save percentage and has held the league's best offense to just four goals. As poor as New Jersey's offense has been at times, they've remained in games because Schneider has played excellent. They need another strong performance from him this afternoon.
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
*doubtful, will update when full lineup is made available
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
Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev
Puck drop is just after 3:00 p.m. Eastern and can be seen on SN360, NBC, NBCSN, and TVAS2.
Note: data via NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.Hockey.
Five observations from Game 4
Five observations from Game 3
Five observations from Game 2
Five observations from Game 1
Eastern Conference playoff predictions: Round 1
Western Conference playoff predictions: Round 1