Lightning-Devils: Why the Game 2 breaks went Tampa Bay’s way

Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) raises his arms to celebrate as he skates passed New Jersey Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid (1) as the Bolts go up 4 to 1 during second period action of game two of the first round of the NHL playoffs at Amalie Arena in Tampa Saturday afternoon (04/14/18). DIRK SHADD   |   Times
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) raises his arms to celebrate as he skates passed New Jersey Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid (1) as the Bolts go up 4 to 1 during second period action of game two of the first round of the NHL playoffs at Amalie Arena in Tampa Saturday afternoon (04/14/18). DIRK SHADD | Times
Published April 14

TAMPA — There was Nikita Kucherov, racing up the left boards, drawing Kyle Palmieri of the New Jersey Devils to him and leaving what Kucherov thought would be the front of the net open for Steven Stamkos.

It looked like one of those Grade-A scoring chances the Tampa Bay Lightning often talk about.

Wrong.

Devils defenseman Sami Vatanen hustled back and positioned himself between Stamkos and the net.

But this is why you throw the puck on net, anyway. Because sometimes it hits off the defenseman's stick and then his skate and then it slides into the net for a gift goal.

"I saw Stammer backdoor," Kucherov said. "I was trying to get it to him. Fortunate, good bounce."

That is how the Lightning scored its fourth goal in what became a 5-3 victory Saturday in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Game 3 of the best-of-seven series is 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

"You earn your breaks," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Naturally that is a fortunate bounce, but they caused that. (Kucherov and Stamkos) caused the puck to be thrown in front. They caused (the Devils) to be put in a tough spot. Does that happen a lot? No, but they earned it. It was fortunate for us it went in."

The Lightning leads the series 2-0 because it took advantage of that break Saturday, found a way to score against the Devils' penalty kill and withstood a late push by a desperate team.

The Lightning scored twice with the man advantage, with the first goal coming when Kucherov passed to Alex Killorn in front of the net instead of firing the puck himself. From there it was a redirect from Killorn for the first of his two goals in the game.

"(The) game came down to three things: don't give them free gifts, which we've given them some gifts in the first two games, stay out of the (penalty) box and special teams has to be better," Devils coach John Hynes said.

The Lightning fought the Bruins for home ice during the final weeks of the season, and Cooper would often talk about the importance of beginning and ending a series at home. It is a great benefit, he said, but only if you take advantage of it.

The Lightning did. Using the last change afforded the home team, Cooper was able to match the Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat line against the Devils' top-scoring line of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier and Palmieri, a matchup working to the Lightning's advantage. Using the energy from the home crowd, the Lightning was able to score first in both games.

Point had the honors Saturday when he took pass from Palat just inside the blue line and exploded toward Keith Kinkaid, beating the goalie to the top of the net.

"I was just so excited to put one in," Point said. "It's kind of a feeling I can't explain."

Hischier evened the score just before the end of the first period, but the Lightning scored a franchise-high four times in the second, including three in a three-minute span.

First it was Killorn on the power play. Next came Tyler Johnson's second goal in as many games. Then came Kucherov's goal. The Lightning chased Kinkaid with Killorn's second goal at the 13:22 mark. Nearly unbeatable since taking over for Cory Schneider in late January, Kinkaid had allowed nine goals in less than five full periods in the series.

Killorn was parked in front of the net on both his goals. Johnson redirected a shot from the blueline by Ryan McDonagh. Kucherov scored because he forced the Devils to make a play that they failed to make.

"This is what good teams do right now, they take opportunities and take advantage of it and that's what we got to realize that every little play, every big play, every detail matters," Jersey defenseman Andy Greene said. "It's the difference between a one or two goal game there."

Those are the breaks.

"You can sit here and say we caught a break here, too," Cooper said. "I don't know, I'm kind of a big believer you earn your breaks. We earned them."

Contact Roger Mooney at [email protected] Follow @rogermooney50

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