(Photo credit: Lisa Gansky)
The Lightning have wobbled as of late but still finished the season with an impressive 113 points.
The Devils, on the other hand, had to fight until the last days of the season to confirm their position in the wildcard spots as they fought off the challenge of Florida, one of the NHL’s form teams heading into the final weeks of the season.
This is New Jersey’s first playoff berth since they reached the final in 2012. Tampa missed the playoffs last season in large part due to injuries, however, this year they have been setting the pace for the best teams in the league.
Devils win 3-0-0Oct. 17: Devils 5, Lightning 4 (SO)Feb. 17: Devils 4, Lightning 3March 24: Devils 2, Lightning 1
Nikita Kucherov broke 100 points for the Lightning - including 36 power play points. A strong case can be made that Kucherov deserves the Hart Trophy, however, New Jersey’s candidate may have a stronger case…
Taylor Hall has essentially carried the Devils on his back this season. His 93 points put him a whopping 41 ahead of his nearest teammate Nico Hischier. This great season has rewarded Hall with his first career playoff series and he will undoubtedly be fired up for this one.
Players to Watch
For Tampa, you could list their full offensive line as they have arguably the league’s strongest firepower. But if you had to pick one name - surely, it would be Steven Stamkos who has come so close to a Stanley Cup before with this team. This could be Tampa’s best year to take the trophy home and Stamkos will lead his team on that assault.
Nico Hischier was picked first overall last summer and now he is playing playoff hockey! Fortunately, Hischier does not carry the pressure for this team so he can play his natural game. The Devils have a free swing against the Lightning as no one expects them to take the bacon home - but don’t count them out.
Both teams play a quick and skillful game which should make this series pleasing to the eye. The Lightning have all the pressure heading into the series as they have been billed as the Eastern Conference’s best team since day one of the season.
Sub-plot though - the Devils are actually 3-0-0 against the Lightning this season and have proven all season that they can keep up with the league’s best. Maybe they could be the team that goes on a surprise run - a bit like the 16th seed Predators last season...
Well, you have to pick the Lightning. They are deep in every department of the ice and will surely have too much for the Devils. Everyone will compare this series with the Leafs/Washington one last season and I suppose that is probably right. Lightning in six.
|1||Thu, Apr 12||Devils at Lightning||7 p.m.||NHLN, SN, TVA|
|2||Sat, Apr 14||Devils at Lightning||3 p.m.||NBC, CNBC, SN360, TVA|
|3||Mon, Apr 16||Lightning at Devils||7:30 p.m.||CNBC, SN, TVA|
|4||Wed, Apr 18||Lightning at Devils||7:30 p.m.||Golf, SN, TVA|
|5*||Sat, Apr 21||Devils at Lightning||TBD||TBD|
|6*||Mon, Apr 23||Lightning at Devils||TBD||TBD|
|7*||Wed, Apr 25||Devils at Lightning||TBD||TBD|