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Lightning Beat Scrappy New Jersey, 6-3

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Photo: Wayne Masut

Tonight’s game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New Jersey Devils should have been a one-sided affair. The scrappy Devils made it closer than the actual score. We’ve seen it all too often in the last few seasons. The Lightning seem to get everyone’s best effort. Even when a team is coming in 2-8 in their last 10 as Jersey did.

A couple of player notes in the mix as Erik Cernak returned to the lineup after missing the last nine games. Corey Perry is on the verge of a great milestone as he entered tonight with 399 NHL goals. He would be only the ninth active player to reach that lofty plateau.  

Lackluster Opening

Right from the opening puck drop, the Devils didn’t play like a team that is 29 points behind the Lightning in the overall standings. While neither team established dominant offensive shifts, New Jersey created some good scoring opportunities. After almost ten minutes into the first period, Cernak put one in the net. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the Devils net.

The Devils’ Dawson Mercer fired a hopeless shot in the general vicinity of Andrei Vasilevskiy. Cernak was sliding down the slot and snatched the puck in front of Vasilevskiy. As he tried to navigate out from in front of his net, Jack Hughes closed in on him. Hughes hit Cernak’s stick and the puck slid in the Lightning net. Mercer was given credit with the goal that gave New Jersey the 1-0 lead. 

In an almost immediate response, the Lightning’s line of Perry, Pat Maroon and Pierre-Edouard Bellmare lit the lamp to tie the game. Only 38 seconds after the Devils goal, Perry slipped the pick to Bellmare up the wall. Bellmare got it to Maroon sliding into the low slot who snapped it past Jon Gilles for the tying goal. 

With a little more than two minutes remaining in the initial period, the Lightning were whistled with a too many men penalty. Sloppy play on the penalty kill led to a turnover by Victor Hedman and Jersey capitalized. Yegor Sharangovich took advantage with a laser past Vasilevskiy to give the Devils a 2-1 lead with less than a minute to go in the first. 

The 2-1 score would suggest a nail-biter but it was more of a snoozefest. Each team only managed one more shot on goal than actual goals they scored. Yes, Jersey held a 3-2 lead after one period on shots on goal. 

Scrappy Jersey

Jersey is one of those teams that just seem to give the Lightning fits. The Devils won the first match between these two back in November 5-3. In January, the Lightning won with a third period goal by Anthony Cirelli that broke a 2-2 tie. Yep, Jersey is a trap game for the Lightning and tonight was no different.

Sure enough, early in the second period, Hughes skated right to Vasilevskiy’s doorstep and put a backhand past him to give New Jersey a 3-1 lead. Clearly, the ice was tilted towards New Jersey. The Lightning couldn’t sustain any kind of offensive presence. Hard to say if it was a lackluster performance by Tampa or a herculean effort by New Jersey. 

The Lightning did get a power play opportunity about midway through the second but they struggled with the extra man. Credit should be given to the Devils as their penalty killers held down the fort. As the middle frame began winding down, the Lightning found a spark. Maybe it was desperation not wanting to go to the second intermission down two goals. 

Steven Stamkos fired a snapshot past a screened out Gilles to give some life to the Lightning. Now, the Lightning shifts had more sustained offensive pressure. As they do at times, the Lightning were coming in waves. Forechecking the youngest team in the league to some turnovers. 

Did I mention waves? A whole 45 seconds after the Stamkos goal, Alex Killorn tied the game at three. Assisted by Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev, now the Lightning were playing like a team with almost double the points of the Devils. Outshooting New Jersey in the second period 14-7, the Lightning were taking back control of the game. 

Final Frame

So, which team was going to take the two points up for grabs in this game? The Devils opened the period trying to claim the game. After a couple of good shifts for Jersey, the Lightning with the Bellmare line worked to get a couple of good scoring chances. This included a shot by Hedman that rang off the post. 

Throughout the night, Lightning coach Jon Cooper was mixing and matching players of various lines. It seemed as if the Bellemare line was the only line left intact. We even saw Stamkos, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov for a couple of shifts. 

With a little over 12 minutes left in the game, the Bellemare line was at it again. Forechecking the hell out of this inexperienced team led to another blast from Hedman that found the post again. This time, it was a friendly ding as the puck went into the net to give the Lightning a 4-3 lead. 

Taking back the momentum, the Lightning had Jersey back on their heels. Two minutes after the Hedman goal, Kucherov on a breakaway shot one past Gilles to put Tampa up 5-3. A little over a minute later, Perry skating hard, going for his 400th, shot the puck that started to bounce past Gilles but didn’t trickle in for the goal. No worries, as Bellemare crashed the net to put in the puck as the Lightning doubled up the Devils, 6 – 3. Gilles was pulled for Nico Daws. 

Ultimately, the Lightning was too much for the upstart Devils. The last few minutes got a little chippy and a couple of fights that were basically draws took place. New Jersey ended the game on the power play but they had no more fight tonight. 

What’s Next

The Lightning have the next seven days off. This was the time in the calendar that no games were scheduled due to the Olympics. The team next plays the Edmonton Oilers on February 23rd at Amalie Arena.

Three Stars 

Just going to give it to the hardest working line for the Lightning tonight. They each had two points and were the difference in tonight’s game. 

First Star: Pat Maroon – One goal, one assist. His goal opened the scoring for the team.

Second Star: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – One goal and one assist. 

Third Star: Corey Perry – two assists and about thisclose to his 400th NHL goal.

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