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Devils Vs. Lightning X-Factor: Goaltending

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Despite the Devils owning a 3-0-0 record over the Lightning in the regular season, this series should be close. Today, I look at what I believe could make or break both teams: their goalies.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight is the night everyone! The New Jersey Devils kick off postseason action for the first time since 2012, and much like in 2012 they will be starting the series on the road against a team that plays in Florida. The key difference is that this year’s Tampa Bay Lightning team is quite a bit scarier than the 2012 Florida Panthers were. The Devils will need to establish and play their game on a nightly basis if they want to win this series, but there’s one factor that I feel might be more important than any other and that will be the goalies.

New Jersey Goaltending

Regular Season:

Keith Kinkaid - 41 GP (38 started), 26-10-3, 2.77 GAA, .913 SV%

Cory Schneider - 40 GP (40 started), 17-16-6, 2.93 GAA, .907 SV%

The Devils net minders season could be summed up as tumultuous at beast; Cory Schneider was lights out to start the season while Keith Kinkaid couldn’t buy a win. When Cory went down with an injury, the roles reversed: Kinkaid thrived while Schneider struggled to find his game.

If the Devils want to be able to go further in this series, someone is going to need to put together a consistent series, and right now Kinkaid appears to be the guy to do so. Since assuming the starting role on January 30th, Kinkaid has gone 19-6-1 with a 2.53 GAA and a .922 SV%, numbers much better than his averages for the year. There were a few games during that streak (such as the shutout in LA) where Kinkaid’s play outright stole the game for New Jersey.

One factor to remember is that goaltending isn’t just on the goalie themselves, as poor defense can lead to difficult situations for even the best tender. The Devils coaching staff continues to make some head scratching decisions on defense (John Moore continues to have a long leash while Damon Severson continues to get no love) and against a team with as much firepower as the Lightning, there is no room for those types of errors.

I predict that Kinkaid will need to find another gear to his game if Jersey’s Team is going to move on, because it doesn’t seem as though the coaching wants to play the best pairings possible.

Tampa Bay Goaltending

Regular Season:

Andrei Vasilevskiy - 65 GP (64 started), 44-17-3, 2.62 GAA, .919 SV%

Louis Domingue - (w/ Tampa Bay) 12 GP (11 started), 7-3-1, 2.89 GAA, .914 SV%

- (w/ Arizona) 7 GP (5 started), 0-6-0, 4.33 GAA, .856 SV%

While the numbers for Tampa’s goaltenders are better, they’re not THAT much better and it provides hope for the Devils coming in against the best team in the East. Andrei Vasilevskiy started out the season as one of the hottest goalies in the NHL, and he was part of the reason why the Lightning surged in the standings.

He hasn’t looked like the same player as of late though; during the same stretch that Kinkaid has played well, Vasilevskiy has gone 15-8-1, but his SV% has dropped to a paltry .902 and his GAA has jumped over half a goal to 3.37. While part of that again can be attributed to defense (remember, this is a team that thinks Dan Girardi should be playing next to Victor Hedman), perhaps Vasilevskiy is hitting a bit of a wall in what has been his first season as the undisputed started for Tampa.

If he has hit a wall (a la our own Jesper Bratt) from playing almost one thousand more minutes from the prior season, then the Devils may be able to exploit that. Domingue isn’t a viable alternative either; while he has played better in Tampa (due to having a better defense than he did in Arizona) his numbers still aren’t all that impressive.

Your Take

Do you agree that the Devils will need better goaltending than the Lightning to win this series? Do you think the Devils turn back to Schneider if Kinkaid falters? Do the Lightning go to Domingue if Vasilevskiy struggles? Will Kinkaid maintain his recent run of play and will Vasilevskiy continue to underperform? Leave any and all comments below, thank you as always for reading, and LET’S GO DEVILS!