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Five observations from Game 3 between the New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning:
1. Cory Schneider stole the show
I thought Cory Schneider was fantastic from start to finish. He looked very confident between the pipes and certainly didn't give off the vibe of a struggling goaltender who hadn't won a game since December. He was positionally sound, he didn't overcommit, and he was able to make a few impressive flurries of stops when the Lightning were really pushing. When he's on, he is as good as pretty much any goaltender in the league. Right now it looks like he's on.
Stopping 44-46 (.957 save percentage) over the last four periods against the highest scoring team in hockey has to be a massive confidence booster for him.
2. Marcus Johansson solid in his return
Though he didn't find the scoresheet, Johansson was solid in his return to the lineup. His playmaking ability was particularly impressive as he pulled off several crafty passes to find open teammates. He also showed the ability to dance around defenders and create extra space for himself to make plays, which is tough to do in the post-season. Really, he added an element of high-end skill to a team that could use it. Not many guys on the roster could make some of the plays he made last night.
3. Sami Vatanen continues to get it done
John Hynes is giving Vatanen very tough assignments and he's handling them shockingly well.
More than nine of Vatanen's 16 minutes of 5v5 ice were spent shadowing Nikita Kucherov. Once again, he did a fantastic job.
During the nine minutes and change they went head-to-head, the Devils gave up just one scoring chance. One.
I don't care who you are or who you're playing with. Giving up one chance in nine minutes with a Hart Trophy candidate on the ice is really impressive.
The two have now shared the ice for 24 minutes through three games. During that time, the Devils have a 15-8 advantage on the shot clock and a 2-0 advantage on the scoreboard. Vatanen's ability to lock down Kucherov and Tampa's big guns at 5v5 is extremely encouraging. If he can continue doing so, the Devils should be able to hang around.
4. Lightning keeps striking
The most concerning thing for the Devils through three games has to be their inability to come through on the penalty kill. In the regular season they were fantastic down a man. They've been anything but thus far.
After going 2-5 last night, the Lightning are now 5-10 on the power play in this series. They're doing an excellent job of spreading the Devils out and opening up space to hit Alex Killorn around the net. Clearly, he's been able to take advantage of that.
The Devils have to figure things out sooner than later. They're going to have a helluva time keeping this a series if they're spotting the Bolts one or two power play goals every single night.
5. Blake Coleman was a beast
If there is one game that perfectly summarizes Coleman, last night's was it. The Tasmanian Devil was everywhere. His tenaciousness led to turnovers and chances on the penalty kill. He forechecked hard. He landed some really heavy hits. He mixed it up after the whistle. He came up with a big blocked shot while defending the lead late and, of course, he scored a goal that put a fork in the Lightning. Nothing was flashy but he made things happen purely off effort and will. In a year full of them, he might be the team's biggest pleasant surprise.
Five observations from Game 2
Five observations from Game 1
Eastern Conference playoff predictions: Round 1
Western Conference playoff predictions: Round 1