TAMPA — Closers.
That's what the Lightning looked like as it closed out the New Jersey Devils in five games with a 3-1 win Saturday.
Nikita Kucherov's star power blazed again, the defense controlled the game and not even Jersey goaltender Cory Schneider kept the Lightning from its appointed (next) round. Here's the grades:
Lightning GM Steve Yzerman's offseason and in-season trades paid large dividends for the Lightning in this series. Forward Chris Kunitz and defensemen Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev all delivered. McDonagh helped contain the Devils all series and rookie Sergachev scored his first playoff goal to open the scoring. Grade: A.
Saturday was the kind of win it takes to take a playoff series and the Lightning, which struggled on defense in the second half of the season, stayed at home and stayed solid all Saturday. Devils' Hart Trophy contender Taylor Hall and his teammates fought for breathing room all afternoon, but there wasn't much. The Lightning made New Jersey play all 200 feet, and that was the difference. Grade: A
Stars being stars
Lightning goal and playmaker Nikita Kucherov started slowly in Game 1, with an empty-netter, but was unstoppable. Kucherov scored what proved to be the winning goal Saturday and finished the series with five goals and five assists and along the way made a legal hit that took out New Jersey's best defenseman, Sami Vatanen,who wasn't in the lineup Saturday. Your best players have to be your best players. Kucherov read the memo. Grade: A.
Video: Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov says it was great to close out opening series with Devils in front of home crowd at Amalie. pic.twitter.com/8Si3keawN6— Greg Auman (@gregauman) April 21, 2018
There appeared to be palpable joy on the home bench after Ryan Callahan's empty-net goal sealed the deal. There was poetry to it. Callahan came off the injured list to deliver big hits and grind out the kind of defense his team needed, befitting a "heart and soul guy," as Dan Girardi described him. He crunched Devils center Blake Coleman at one point. No, Coleman didn't go cartwheeling onto his own bench, where he was sent flying by Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn in Game 4 — a defining moment in the series. But Callahan got his point across, and sent a message for his team as much as the other one. Grade: A
Times columnist Tom Jones and Roger Mooney break down the Lighting’s series-clinching 3-1 victory over New Jersey Saturday at Amalie Arena. Post your questions here and they’ll answer them.Posted by Tampa Bay Times - Sports on Saturday, April 21, 2018
The vaunted Lightning power play went 0-for-5 in the game and whiffed on four second-period try. True, it had good chances, Cory Schneider made some big saves and New Jersey ran itself down killing off the disadvantage. But the PP will have to pick it back up in time for the next series — or else. Grade: D.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] Follow @mjfennelly