Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning-Devils: Six matchups that could define the first-round series

TAMPA — Here are six matchups that could define the Tampa Bay Lightning-New Jersey Devils' best-of-seven series, which starts at 7 p.m. Thursday at Amalie Arena:

The Vasilevskiy factor

Keith Kinkaid comes in as the hot goalie, with a 7-0-1 record in his last eight starts. Since taking over as starter in January, he is 16-3-1 with a 2.32 goals against average and a 9.29 save percentage. This will be his first playoff action. Andrei Vasilevskiy's first ever postseason start was in the 2015 Cup Finals. His last six playoff starts were in the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals. He tied for the NHL lead with 44 wins his first year as a No. 1.

The Taylor Hall line

LW Taylor Hall led the Devils with 39 goals and 93 points — 41 points more than their next highest scorer, linemate C Nico Hischier (20 goals, 52 points). RW Kyle Palmieri had 20 goals and 44 points. It is a potent line, one that can carry a team in a series. While Lightning coach Jon Cooper likes to juggle his lines, his top unit is more potent with RW Nikita Kucherov's 39 goals and 100 points, C Steven Stamkos and his 59 assists to go with his 27 goals and LW J.T. Miller, who has a team-high 10 goals since joining the Lightning Feb. 26.

Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point (21) battles for the puck against Buffalo Sabres defenseman Justin Falk (41) during and April 6, 2018 game in Tampa. DIRK SHADD | Times

Testing the shutdown line

C Brayden Point and LW Ondrej Palat will be tasked with stopping the Hall line. No easy task, but they have been charged with stopping the opposing team's top lines all season and have done it well. The Devils will likely have their line of LW Blake Coleman, C Travis Zajac and RW Stefan Noesen on the Stamkos line. If they have some success, expect Cooper to mix his lines up to create a different look.

Keep an eye on these grinders

RW Patrick Marron has 13 points since joining New Jersey from the Oilers at the trade deadline. A grinder who adds grit to the Devils' lineup, he could come up big if the Lightning lose track of him. C Tyler Johnson plays big during the postseason with 21 goals, 21 assists in 47 career games. The Devils will have their hands full stopping the Lightning if Johnson heats up.

Faceoffs, faceoffs, faceoffs

The Lightning defense has been, umm, leaky during the last few weeks, allowing an average of 3.46 goals. That puts a lot of pressure on Vasilevskiy, especially if the Hall line gets hot. The Devils won 47 percent of faceoffs. While the Lightning is not the best in the circle (48.2), it has improved after the All-Star Break. Giving the Lightning offense extra possessions could be an issue.

Super Cooper

Everything is magnified in the playoffs, from faceoffs to penalty kills and line matchups. Cooper has the considerable edge here. This is his fourth playoff appearance. He's led the Lightning to the Cup Finals in 2016 and the conference finals in 2017. This is the first postseason for John Hynes, who is in his second season as the Devils coach.

Contact Roger Mooney at [email protected] Follow @rogermooney50

Comments
Lightning-Capitals: Stat to watch in Game 7

Lightning-Capitals: Stat to watch in Game 7

We asked the Times' Lightning coverage team what's the statistic to watch in tonight's Game 7 of the Lightning-Capitals series (8 p.m., NBC Sports Network). Here's their answers. Share yours in the comments section below:Martin Fennelly, columnist:&#...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lightning-Capitals: The most compelling Game 7 personality

Lightning-Capitals: The most compelling Game 7 personality

Who is the most compelling personality in Lightning-Capitals Game 7?We asked the Times' Lightning coverage team for their answer. Who's yours? Please share in the comments section and feel free to take issue with our answers.JOIN the Lightning Strike...
Updated: 6 hours ago
The key stat for Lightning-Capitals Game 7? Score first

The key stat for Lightning-Capitals Game 7? Score first

As the Lightning and Capitals prepare for their series finale Wednesday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa, here's a by-the-numbers look at each team's Game 7 history.5-2The Lightning's record in Game 7s. It has never lost at home (3-0).+5The Lightning's...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Lightning-Capitals: Tampa Bay’s Game 7 to-do list

Lightning-Capitals: Tampa Bay’s Game 7 to-do list

TAMPA — By now there are no more secrets. After six games over 11 days, the Lightning knows all the Capitals' habits , and the Caps know all the Lightning's.To Lightning coach Jon Cooper the outcome of tonight's Game 7 of the Eastern Conference...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Lightning journal: You gotta love Game 7s

Lightning journal: You gotta love Game 7s

TAMPA — Welcome to Game 7, the most fun a player can have if he's fortunate enough to play in one. At least, that is how Lightning D Anton Stralman sees tonight's Eastern Conference final finale."I take pleasure in playing a Game 7," Stralman s...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Lightning-Capitals: Tampa Bay’s Game 7 Mr. Essential

Lightning-Capitals: Tampa Bay’s Game 7 Mr. Essential

TAMPA — He's the Lightning's best player. He's its most important player.Well, other than goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. That's a given. Every team relies most heavily on its goalie.But if the Lightning is going win a nerve-racking, heart-stopping,...
Published: 05/22/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Lightning squanders chance to close out Capitals

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Lightning squanders chance to close out Capitals

The Lightning misses an opportunity to close out the Capitals in Washington, so there will be a Game 7 in Tampa on Wednesday night with a berth in the Stanley Cup final on the line.Andrei Vasilevskiy was fantastic, but the Lightning couldn't match th...
Published: 05/22/18
Game 7 odds and ends as you wait for Lightning-Capitals on Wednesday

Game 7 odds and ends as you wait for Lightning-Capitals on Wednesday

For the 33rd time in NHL history, a Stanley Cup semifinal series is headed to a Game 7, where the home teams are 21-11.The Lightning and Capitals meet Wednesday night at Amalie Arena in a win-or-go home game to decide who plays Vegas in the Stanley C...
Published: 05/22/18
Stanley Cup final schedule: Tampa Bay-Washington winner vs. Vegas

Stanley Cup final schedule: Tampa Bay-Washington winner vs. Vegas

Here's the schedule for the Stanley Cup final, which starts Monday — in Tampa Bay if the Lightning wins Wednesday and in Vegas if it doesn't:Lightning-Capitals winner vs. Golden Knights(All games on NBC at 8 p.m. ET)Monday, May 28Wednesday, May...
Published: 05/22/18
How to watch Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Washington Capitals Game 7: Game time, TV, live stream

How to watch Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Washington Capitals Game 7: Game time, TV, live stream

There will be a Game 7 in Tampa Wednesday because the Capitals "were the more desperate team," because Alex Ovechkin was running over Lightning players all night Monday in Washington and because Caps goalie Braden Holtby played to perfection.Washingt...
Published: 05/22/18