Facing a New Jersey team making its first playoff appearance since 2012, the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead Thursday night to set the tone for the opener and the first-round playoff series.
"I'm sure there's some nerves," defenseman Travis Zajac said after the 5-2 loss to the Lightning. "I think it took us a while to get our legs going … Second and third period, we did a lot of good things that we can be happy about. We just have to make sure we learn from this game and refocus and get ready for the next."
The Lightning's spark came from two players key to their 2015 playoff run in Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, who assisted on each other's goals in the final five minutes of the opening period.
Video: Lightning’s Tyler Johnson, who had an early assist and goal, likes the way his team opened its playoff series against the Devils. pic.twitter.com/AmYJpUanmf— Greg Auman (@gregauman) April 13, 2018
But the line that perhaps stepped up most was one normally intended to neutralize an opponent's top scoring threat — Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn, who not only limited New Jersey's Taylor Hall, but came up with a key goal midway through the third period after the Devils had pulled within a 3-2 score.
"They're very good players. They're fast and tenacious, they're strong on the puck and they're real smart, heady, crafty players," Devils coach John Hynes said. "They play both sides of the puck really well. The combination of the three of them, the way they compete and their hockey sense, really helps them out."
New Jersey won all three regular-season meetings against Tampa Bay, but they're starting from behind in the best-of-seven series, learning what they need to improve on for Saturday afternoon's Game 2 in Tampa.
Video: Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid says he has to come up with big saves to keep Lightning in check. After slow start, liked what his team showed in second period. pic.twitter.com/RiAg6pMgIc— Greg Auman (@gregauman) April 13, 2018
"Obviously it's not the outcome we want, but that's why it's a series and not a game," goalie Keith Kincaid said. "Once we got to our game in the second period, we can play with them. They made some plays, got a few goals, and I've got to come up with a big save there. … You can definitely see that once we get to our game, we can play with anyone. We just have to keep the foot on the pedal there."