The 2017-18 New Jersey Devils are now done playing hockey until next preseason. The New Jersey Devils were eliminated in the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning by losing this afternoon’s Game 5 by a final score of 1-3.
I would be lying if I wrote that I was not a little sad about writing that sentence. I wanted at least one more game. I wanted one more drive to the Rock. I wanted one more walk from the lot to the arena. I wanted one more chance to go up the stairs to the lower concourse. I wanted one more chance to walk around and see all of the Devils fans. I wanted one more chance to see, cheer, yell, and support my favorite team from Section 1. I wanted one more game to come home and to write as much as I wanted, tired as I may be, for you - the Devils fan reading this very site. I wanted one more game. There will not be one more game.
I would be lying if I wrote that this result was not deserved. As with Game 4, the Tampa Bay Lightning took care of business in denying the Devils opportunities to come back in the game. Unlike Games 1 and 2, the Lightning did not light up the Devils and force them to come back from a giant deficit. I mean, they tried to. Against most other goalies, they likely would have. More on that in a bit. But they only scored two non-empty net goals again. Their offensive forecheck and pressure gave the Devils issues all game long, denying them chances to respond. Their neutral zone play was on point. Their handling of the puck and their passing execution was excellent. In their own end, they kept the Devils to few offensive shifts and opportunities for second and third shooting opportunities after taking one. When the Devils did break through, Andrei Vasilevskiy brought his ‘A’ game and made nearly all of the stops. Yes, the Lightning were not as aggressive on offense then as they were today. Yes, Tampa Bay had a huge power play advantage. And in Game 5 Tampa Bay earned their two goals extended stays in the Devils’ end of it. But other than that, the Lightning closed down the Devils well and were able to defend a close lead. The Devils could not respond, they struggled to attack many times, and when they had an opportunity, they did not realize it. The Lightning out-played the Devils today. They did in Games 1, 2, and 4 too. So it goes.
I wrote a really long series preview that detailed how Tampa Bay has the advantage over the Devils in most aspects of a hockey team. We saw it on display throughout this series. That’s ultimately how they won. Simply, the Lightning were just the better team.
I would be lying if I wrote that the Devils did not have opportunities to get into this game. There were some seriously great scoring opportunities and offensive stands in New Jersey’s end of the rink by Tampa Bay. They also had five power plays - in a row. Again, on most days, they would have scored a whole lot and cruised to this win. Today was not one of those days. Today, Cory Schneider was a monster in net. On his skates, on the ice, with crashing bodies, and with heads-up plays, Schneider performed way above expectations to keep the score close. He made some outstanding saves. What beat him were two long shots through traffic that he did not see, on shifts where the Devils failed to make a defensive play and absolutely did not put in the right defensive effort. Mikhail Sergachev did so past three Devils on a long, high shot in the first period. Nikita Kucherov did so against after the Devils’ wack fourth line got stuck and scrambled in their own end on a long, low shot in the third period. Neither were soft and both showed that lack of support Schneider received at times. Tampa Bay could have scored more, but Schneider stood on his head many times to deny them more than the two they got. I’d rather have the win; however, this was a game that struck a blow to the haters and losers that proclaimed that Schneider was done. (So would the series as Schneider allowed just six goals in three starts on 119 shots against.) If you wanted a Big Game from Schneider, you got one. Unfortunately, no other Devil really had a Big Game. And Schneider cannot score goals. He can only keep the score from going out of hand. He certainly did that.
And with that, there were moments where one could have hoped for something better. The final few minutes of the first period had the Devils flip the script and force Tampa Bay to defend and make clearances on zone exits. There were some odd man rushes after penalty kills and a shorthanded try in the second period that could have made a difference. The Devils had one (1) power play to tie up the game in the third period. With three minutes left and Schneider pulled for an extra skater, Kyle Palmieri fired in a long slapshot of a one-timer to make it 1-2. (Patrick Maroon apparently tipped it, so he would get credit for it later.) The following three minutes could have been incredibly dramatic for all involved. There was a chance to tie it up. As with any fan, I was hoping the Devils would break through and provide the late equalizer to at least force a dramatic overtime. It was faint as the Devils were not able to get into many good spots for shots, they were unable to provide sustained offense and often times any offense, and they had to breakdown a team that has been disrupting them well in Games 4 and 5. But it was there.
I would be lying if I wrote that I was surprised with how those final three minutes went. The Lightning, again, took care of business. They did not panic or play frantically. They kept the Devils more than honest. Tyler Johnson nearly iced the game after a center-ice draw was lost, only to be denied by an astounding acrobatic save by Schneider. The Devils would eventually get the puck in deep. There were two shots, but the Devils couldn’t get the bounce or get past the Lightning players to get to any more pucks. The puck eventually was won by Tampa Bay, it was dumped away, and Ryan Callahan sailed the puck into the empty net as time expired to end the game, end the series, and end New Jersey’s 2017-18 campaign. It was an effort but not good enough in a Game 5 where the Devils’ performance outside of Schneider and the penalty kill - which was mostly Schneider anyway - was not good enough in general.
I would be lying if I wrote that that this season was not a success for the Devils. It absolutely was. I was wrong, so very, very wrong, about the Devils in 2017-18. They did not just stay out of the basement; they held a playoff position for nearly the entire season. When that was on the precipice of being lost, the Devils rose up and got hot enough at the end of the season to secure in Game 81. As I wrote in the series preview:
I am happy that the Devils are in the playoffs. Whatever happens does not diminish what they accomplished in this season. Not even if they get swept (which is hard to do, so don’t get too confident, Lightning fans). However, this is a playoff series and plenty can happen. When the puck drops, like any other fan, I want my favorite team to win. Do I expect the Devils to get out of the first round? I’m keeping it 100, so no. Do I want them to? Absolutely.
This has not changed. While Tampa Bay ended up being a terrible match-up for the Devils, the other options (Washington, Pittsburgh) would not be better for reasons Mike went into on Friday. I don’t think I’m writing about a playoff series win had the Devils won Game 82 or some other games if those were the other potential opponents. Of the many lessons from this playoff series, the Devils need to further strengthen their roster. Taylor Hall is great - he is a Superstar - but Hall cannot do everything on his own. When Hall comes off the ice, there should be some other lines pushing back against the opposition both in the run of play and on the scoresheet. The defense, particularly on the left side, has to be infused with more talent. The power play needs to develop some Plans B and C when their Plan A fails.
However, it is far, far better to be working from a place of making the playoffs than working from a sixth-straight season of missing the playoffs. I could not tell you if the 2018-19 Devils will make it or not. I don’t know what they’ll be yet. I can tell you with 1,000% confidence that the Devils needed this playoff series, short as it may have been. It’s a visible sign of progress. It’s a showcase that when things go right, they can be taken to heights not otherwise expected. It’s a massive feather in the cap of the players, coaches, scouts, and management. It’s a reward for the fans, especially those who have stuck it out between 2012-13 and 2016-17 when the team not only missed the playoffs but also hit rock bottom. I am happy that they made it and I would be lying if I wrote otherwise.
Most of all, I am truthful when I write that I am proud of this season’s team. They could have made some progress, finished sixth or seventh in the Metropolitan Division, and tried real hard to make the postseason in 2018-19 or 2019-20. They could have tried to be an “exciting bad team” instead of the “just really bad team” of 2016-17. They achieved far beyond my expectations and the expectations of many other fans, hockey media people, and a lot of others. They were not jobbers in the playoffs. Tampa Bay did not steamroll them in four-straight 3+ goal losses or anything like that. The Devils did not get swept. They were not the first team eliminated. They were in Games 4 and 5 on the scoreboard. I’d like to think they earned some respect. Again, I don’t know if they can take another step forward or repeat what they did next season. I am quite pleased with what they did accomplish and I am looking forward to the future.
As far as the future here, we’ll see. There might be a playoff summary post either tomorrow or Monday. We’ll see if any Devils will go to the IIHF World Championships. There might be an open post for other playoff games. Typically, prospect profiles won’t begin until mid-May or so. There will be analysis and opinion here until then. There will be things to read and comment about. Hockey doesn’t stop at All About the Jersey.
As always, I want to thank the other AAtJ writers, the followers on the @AAtJerseyBlog Twitter, the SBN personnel who have helped out, and, most of all, you - the reader. Hokey as it may seem, you really do matter. Even just by reading it, nevermind commenting and sharing it, you give this blog meaning, you give this blog purpose, you give this blog relevancy. Devils fans are all over the world. As such, this is a world-class blog for the worldwide fanbase of the best team in New Jersey. At least, I hope it has been a world-class blog; I’ll work to continue to make it world-class. All the same, thanks to everyone who has supported me, the writers, and the site through this season, past seasons, and future seasons.
For the last time: subheadings in a recap to follow.
The Opposition Opinion: Matthew Esteves at Raw Charge has this recap for the winning side.
By the way, please don’t go there and cause a problem. Raw Charge has not done anything to me or to you. It’s a blog so take your beefs, make like Elsa, and let it go.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Further Analysis? Some Thoughts: There’s a whole offseason to dive into whether players should stay, go, be re-signed, not be re-signed, or whatever. The series is over. I’ll summarize that either tomorrow or Monday in terms of who was good or bad.
Besides, today’s Game 5 was real easy. Schneider was excellent and no one on the Devils played nearly on his level. The lack of hustle was apparent early on, as was who had the superior game plan. And while they did battle at times, the Lightning provided more effective pressure and made the Devils skaters look bad at times. It was also in Tampa Bay’s favor that Kucherov played like the all-star that he is, Johnson gave the Devils fits, the Alex Killorn line was constantly keeping the pressure going in Tampa Bay’s direction, and Victor Hedman had another strong game at both ends. Again, I can’t point to a single Devils skater and state they were a constant threat.
That said, if you want to be kinder to a skating line, then make it the Nico Hischier line. Jesper Bratt was put with them and they had shifts that made it look like 2017 for all involved. They had the better run of play in 5-on-5 and they combined for seven of New Jersey’s 27 shots (Bratt 4, Taylor Hall 3) and 13 of the team’s 47 shooting attempts (Hischier 5, Hall 4, Bratt 4). Could they have been better at times? Yes. But were they above the other lines? Yes.
You can be mad about the five straight penalties the Devils took, but they were penalties and they could have been avoided. For a team that stated they needed to stay out of the box, they failed at that today. Yeah, maybe Tampa Bay could have been called for some, but that doesn’t mean the Devils’ fouls did not exist. At the very least, the PK was perfect - by which I mean Cory Schneider was perfect in stopping all 13 power play shots by Tampa Bay. The Devils only had the one power play, largely because they didn’t have the puck in spots enough times for the Lightning to foul them and the Lightning were well-disciplined today.
The broadcast on NBC highlighted Tampa Bay’s aggressiveness. This was something that threw the Devils off from Game 1 and onward. For all of their speed and skill on the puck, they out-battled the Devils on the boards in general; they went hard into checks; and they were chipping, chasing, and succeeding with their forecheck. This, combined with counter-attacking and looking for scoring chances off rushes up ice, contributed to how the Lightning were able to control the game as well as get their offense going. While that faded for a few stretches in Game 5, overall, the Lightning won with those adjustments. That they were able to change their style without losing what makes them so dangerous will suit them well as they will take on other playoff opponents with different approaches.
One Last Thought: This was a great season that beat expectations. The offseason is a little shorter than it was in the previous five years. We won’t stop, though. Please continue to read All About the Jersey all year long.
Your Take: The Devils lost Game 5 and their playoff series with Tampa Bay today. The last sight of the Devils was after a handshake line. It’s a bummer. That there was a playoff series at all is not so much of a bummer, though. Still, what are your thoughts about this game? What about the Devils? What about the Lightning?Please leave your answers in the comments. Thank you.