Will the Lightning team that dominated the NHL for most of the season resurface? Will there be another Devils series sweep of the Lightning? Here's the Times' Lightning coverage team's predictions for the Lightning-Devils series, which opens its best-of-seven run Thursday in Tampa:
Exorcising the Devils
Tom Jones, @tomwjones: The Devils are lightning fast, as in they are fast enough to skate with the Lightning. They proved that in three regular-season victories over Bolts. But they just aren't deep enough to match Tampa Bay over a best-of-seven series. If the Lightning can slow Jersey's Taylor Hall, this series won't last too long. One other thing: the Lightning better not cough up the puck as often as it has the past six weeks. Limit the turnovers and don't hand the Devils too many power plays and Tampa Bay should cruise into the next round. Prediction: Lightning in 5
Forget about that regular-season sweep
It will have to neutralize the Devils' speed and find a way to score against goalie Keith Kinkaid. The Devils will have their hands full with slowing down the Lightning and solving Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Lightning has the experience and a little bit of a chip after losing in the conference finals in 2016 and missing the playoffs in 2017. Prediction: Lightning in 6.
Brayden Point received the minutes to develop into one of the Lightning's top players. Yanni Gourde got his feet wet. Andrei Vasilevskiy was given a month to get used to the role of No. 1 goalie. #TBLightning #GoBolts @RogerMooney50 @TB_Times @TBLightning https://t.co/VLHKPudczd— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) April 10, 2018
Devils can’t match Bolts’ scoring depth
Frank Pastor, @frankpastor66: Throw out the regular-season results. All three games were decided by a single goal, one went to a shootout and a rusty Peter Budaj started another. Focus instead on how the Lightning appears to be getting back to its game at just the right time and has as much to prove as any team in the playoffs after narrowly missing out a year ago.
Taylor Hall is fantastic, but the Devils don't possess anywhere near the Lightning's scoring depth. And you don't get far in the postseason with just one line. Maybe your goalie can steal a series for you, but the Lightning has the better netminder in Andrei Vasilevskiy, too. New Jersey will have to be satisfied with its remarkable turnaround. Its season ends here. Prediction: Lightning in 5.
The old saying goes that if you're going to have playoff success, your best players have to be your best players, Tom Jones writes. #TBLightning #GoBolts @TB_Times @TomWJones @RogerMooney50 @gregauman @mjfennelly #NHLPlayoffs #NJDevils https://t.co/9pgQZ4sdof— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) April 10, 2018
Back to Exit 14 with you, Devils
Martin Fennelly, @mjfennelly: The Lightning send the Devils back to the Jersey Turnpike exit where they belong. Must have been a rope-a-dope deal. Nikita Kucherov shines and Andrei Vasilevskiy does the same. Brayden Point helps shut down Taylor Hall. Then we sit back and watch the Bruins and Leafs beat each other up. Prediction: Lightning in 5
How it’s really a mismatch
Greg Auman, @gregauman: Yes, the Lightning lost all three times to the Devils in the regular season — their first 13 losses were against 13 different teams, by the way. Still, one Devils loss was in shootout and the other two by a single goal. Look at goal differential — Tampa Bay is an NHL-best +60, while New Jersey is just +4, worst of any playoff team. Another stat to watch: Devils are just 11-9 in games that go into overtime. The Lightning will control this series — we'll account for a single loss — and advance to the second round. Prediction: Lightning in 5.