NEWARK — They say lightning never strikes the same place twice but Tampa Bay bolted to a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series with a pair of wins on home ice.
As the series shifted to New Jersey, the Devils shifted from Keith Kinkaid to Cory Schneider looking for a spark in between the pipes in what was shaping up to be a do or die Game 3 with their season on the line.
Twice, Lightning struck. But each time the Devils battled back to tie before Stefan Noesen’s one-timer, from the top of the faceoff circle with 7:05 remaining in regulation, gave New Jersey a lead it would not rescind en route to a 5-2 victory over Tampa Bay in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Prudential Center in Newark.
“We had some confidence coming back on home ice with how we finished the regular season and it was everything we could have asked for,” said Devils’ forward Taylor Hall, who tied the game at 1-1, set up Will Butcher for the game-tying goal, then Noesen for the game-winner 8:52 later to the chants of ‘MVP, MVP‘ ringing down from the rafters. “The atmosphere, the excitement level in the building — it was just awesome.”
“It wasn’t the greatest start to the game for us, but we hung in there and our fans, I think, really pushed us over the edge,” Hall said. “It’s not my first playoff win — it’s our group’s.”
Making his first start since April 7 — and first playoff start since May 7, 2013 when he was a member of the Vancouver Canucks — Schneider stood tall with 34 saves, including a flurry of stops sprawled out in the third, to give New Jersey a chance to run away with it in the final frame.
“It was chaos there. Guys blocking shots, doing everything they could,” Schneider said. “You don’t want to be overaggressive because they have some speed coming at you, but you stay with it, get a toe on it, force them wide or whatever. It was a group effort to close it.”
After Noesen redirected Hall’s pass with seven minutes left, Blake Coleman and Ben Lovejoy added empty-netters 20 seconds apart in a game that was a lot tighter — and grittier — than the scoreboard indicated.
With Andrei Vasilevskiy (36 saves) pulled in favor of an extra-attacker, both teams got rough as Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and Devils’ center Brian Boyle got into an altercation that started a scrum and saw 10 different players receive 10-minute misconducts to set the tone for what will be a must-see Game 4 back at Prudential Center on Wednesday.
“It’s a hockey game. It is what it is. I’m sure it was entertaining,” Boyle said in the aftermath. “It’s competition. There’s a line to it you don’t necessarily want to cross.”
Boyle trash talking Sergachev and the inicident that started it pic.twitter.com/sUkRrfwutg
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 17, 2018
“Both teams want to win bad,” Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Miller said. “I think they know and so do we that this is a big game. It can really set the tone for the rest of the series.”
“It’s a great feeling,” Hall said. “But we’re still down 2-1. We still have a lot of room to grow but it’s a nice start.”
In the first NHL playoff game in Newark in six years, Alex Killorn quieted a raucous crowd at “The Rock” when the Halifax native took a pass from Nikita Kucherov in the corner and buried it for his fourth goal of the series 42 seconds into the second period.
The goal stood until Hall swooped in and banged home an errant clearing attempt left all alone in the slot to make it a 1-1 game with 7:36 left in the second period.
Once again, however, the Lightning were quick to strike again the third when Steven Stamkos converted on a carryover power play from the second to put Tampa Bay back in front, 2-1.
The Devils were quick to respond when promising rookie Will Butcher picked a great time to deliver his first-career playoff goal on a twisted wrister from the point that was aided by a Patrick Maroon screen in front to knot the game back up at 2-2.
The Lightning, the top team in the Eastern Conference with 113 points during the regular season, were determined to take its third lead of the game but the play of Schneider down the line opened up the door for the Devils to steal one on home ice.
With 106-career regular season wins in a Devils uniform, Schneider provided the spark his team desperately needed to record his first-career playoff win for the franchise. During a wild flurry with 10:01 remaining in regulation, Schneider made a bevy of stops and appeared to injure himself but finished the contest.
“I was trying to scramble there but had some trouble recovering,” Schneider said of the minor tweak. “Fortunately, I was able to stay with it and came back to where I was. I feel fine. I feel good enough right now to finish the game.”
Schneider’s play set the stage for Hall to set up Noesen for the game-winner.
“We didn’t start our best but we stuck with it and even though we were down we kept going. That’s what you need in the playoffs,” Noesen said. “That’s the kind of character on this team. There’s no quit in this team. We worked all year to get in this position, to get in the playoffs. Just because it’s not going your way, you cannot drop dead and quit playing. It’s going to be tough.”
After the game, Lightning team captain Steven Stamkos wasn’t pleased with the amount of penalties Tampa Bay took.
“At the end of the day, you give them that many power play chances, and then a 5-on-3, there’s a good chance they’re eventually going to get one,” Stamkos said. “They got one and then they got the momentum. You just can’t take that many penalties this time of year.”
With the win, it’s Schneider’s cage now.
“Playoffs start, doesn’t matter how you played coming in, what you’ve played like or what role — everything can change in a moments notice,” Schneider said. “I’m just trying to enjoy it, contribute and help my team any way I can.”
Schneider said the fans welcoming him back to the starting lineup meant a lot.
“It was a great reception, but you’re only as good as your next one,” Schneider said. “They’ve waited a long time for playoff hockey here so it was fun to see them enjoy themselves and be as loud as they were. It was loudest I’ve ever heard this building – by far. Hopefully, they come back with the same kind of energy in Game 4.”
“They won their two home games, now we’re coming here,” Devils’ forward Marcus Johansson added. “If we do our job and win our three home games all we have to do is beat them once down there.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: Patrick Maroon #17 and Travis Zajac #19 of the New Jersey Devils celebrate a power-play goal by Will Butcher #8 against the Tampa Bay Lightning at 4:04 of the third period in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Prudential Center on April 16, 2018 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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