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A Breakdown of the New Jersey Devils-Tampa Bay Lightning Playoff Series

The New Jersey Devils were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the first round of the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. As the Devils’ season is now done, this post breaks down what happened in the series and discovers that the Lightning really were the better team overall.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning
The series ended with a handshake line. Let’s look back at what happened in the series.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The New Jersey Devils faced of with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Devils were eliminated in five games by the Lightning. This ended the Devils’ 2017-18 campaign. The offseason has now begun for the Devils. However, before we discuss at length about potential free agent signings, argue over transactions that should or should not be done, and put together a lot of draft prospect profiles, let us break down what happened in these five games. We know what it led to. Let’s see what we can learn from looking back at the series.

The Devils-Lightning First Round Series Results: Game by Game

Game 1: Devils 2, Lightning 5 - AAtJ Recap

Run of Goals: TB (Palat, 1st Period), TB (Johnson, 1st Period), TB (Gourde, 2nd Period, PPG), NJ (Hall, 2nd Period), NJ (Zajac, 3rd Period, PPG), TB (Killorn, 3rd Period), TB (Kucherov, 3rd Period, ENG)

Game 2: Devils 3, Lightning 5 - AAtJ Recap

Run of Goals: TB (Point, 1st Period), NJ (Hischier, 1st Period), TB (Killorn, 2nd Period, PPG), TB (Johnson, 2nd Period), TB (Kucherov, 2nd Period, Vatanen own goal, 4v4), TB (Killorn, 2nd Period, PPG), NJ (Vatanen, 2nd Period), NJ (Coleman, 3rd Period)

Game 3: Devils 5, Lightning 2 - AAtJ Recap

Run of Goals: TB (Killorn, 2nd Period, PPG), NJ (Hall, 2nd Period), TB (Stamkos, 3rd Period, PPG), NJ (Butcher, 3rd Period, 5v3 PPG), NJ (Noesen, 3rd Period), NJ (Coleman, 3rd Period, SHG, ENG), NJ (Lovejoy, 3rd Period, ENG)

Game 4: Devils 1, Lightning 3 - AAtJ Recap

Run of Goals: NJ (Palmieri, 1st Period, 5v3 PPG), TB (Miller, 1st Period), TB (Kucherov, 1st Period), TB (Kucherov, 1st Period, ENG)

Game 5: Devils 1, Lightning 3 - AAtJ Recap

Run of Goals: TB (Sergachev, 1st Period), TB (Kucherov, 3rd Period), NJ (Maroon, 3rd Period, 6v5), TB (Callahan, 3rd Period, ENG)

I included the run of goals to show a number of things. First, the Devils led exactly twice in this entire series. Going up 3-2 in Game 3 and scoring the first goal in Game 4. In all other cases, the Devils were tied or playing from behind. Of course, the Devils lost every game but Game 3 so that’s no big surprise. However, the big deficits in Games 1 and 2 loom large while the Lightning were able to hold onto close leads in Games 4 and 5 to finish off the series. The Devils would be able to limit the number of goals the Lightning would score; but they would not able to match a reduced number.

The Devils-Lightning First Round Series Scorers

All stats in this section are from

Devils: New Jersey had Taylor Hall and Blake Coleman as the only players with more than one goal scored in this series. They had two each. Hall had a goal in Game 1 and in Game 3. Coleman had a goal in Game 2 and an empty-netter in Game 3. Single goal scorers included: Travis Zajac (Game 1), Nico Hischier (Game 2), Sami Vatanen (Game 2), Will Butcher (Game 3), Stefan Noesen (Game 3), Ben Lovejoy (ENG, Game 3), Kyle Palmieri (Game 4), Patrick Maroon (Game 5). While it may look nice to see ten different goal scorers, there was not a lot of production spread pretty wide.

In terms of who was setting up these goals, only six players registered assists. Hall was involved in four goals, Butcher was credited for three, Andy Greene and Palmieri each had two, and John Moore and Zajac had one each. That’s it in terms of credit. It is worth noting that a bunch of the Devils goals were unassisted.

In terms of shots, Hall led the team with 21. Maroon and Coleman were tied with 16 each. Palmieri had 13, Damon Severson had 12 (thanks to an 8-shot Game 4), and John Moore had 10 shots. Everyone else had less than ten with Brian Gibbons putting up no official shots in two appearances.

It’s fair to say that Hall had to carry a lot of the offense. It is impressive that Maroon and Coleman were able to average at least 3 shots per game considering neither are top-line players and Coleman does not even get much power play time. But the production was led by Hall (6 points), Butcher (4), and little contributions here and there. Needless to say, the lack of contributions really hurt the Devils - especially when you look at the Lightning.

Lightning: Nikita Kucherov ended up leading the series with five goals of his own. He scored in every game except for Game 3. He didn’t technically score in Game 2, but he was credited for Vatanen’s own goal. Alex Killorn followed with four: one in Game 1, two power play goals in Game 2, and a power play goal in Game 3. Tyler Johnson finished with two goals: one in Game 1 and one in Game 2. Seven other Lightning players were held to one goal each: Ondrej Palat (Game 1), Yanni Gourde (Game 1), Brayden Point (Game 2), Steven Stamkos (Game 3), T.J. Miller (Game 4), Mikhail Sergachev (Game 5), and Ryan Callahan (Game 5). That’s the same number of players as the Devils, only with more players with multiple goals - and Kucherov had more goals than all non-Hall Devils had in points in the series.

In terms of assists, the Lightning went even deeper. Kucherov again led the team with five. Stamkos tied him with five helpers of his own as well. Ryan McDonagh contributed four helpers, all outside of the power play. Miller and Palat each had three. Point had two. And seven more players had one assist: Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn, Gourde, Johnson, Sergachev, and Anthony Cirelli. This speaks to how more Lightning players found a way to contribute than the Devils.

As for shots, Kucherov led again with 24 shots in the series for his team. While the second place Lightning player only had 14, the Lightning had seven players with more than ten shots on net in the series: Johnson (14), Gourde (13), Victor Hedman (12), Stamkos (12), Miller (11), Point (11), and Sergachev (11). Everybody had at least two shots on net, nobody was held shotless in five games.

The Lightning’s Kucherov really rose above in this series to put up 10 huge points. He was kept to primarily power play production until busting out at evens as the series went on. While the Devils were able to keep the Lightning from putting up five-spots after Game 2, many more Lightning players were involved and that matched how the games went with multiple lines giving the Devils issues.

The Devils-Lightning First Round Series Goaltenders

Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy started in every game and played every minute for the Lightning in net. Per, he conceded ten goals and stopped 94.1% (159 saves, 169 shots) of all shots. He was beaten seven times at even strength and posted a save percentage of 94.5%. As for special teams, Vasilevskiy was perfect on all six shorthanded shots against him and was beaten only three times on the power play for a PK save percentage of 91.4% In short, he was great. Whether it was a one-on-one with a Devil or facing a scramble in front, Vasilevskiy often came up with the stop and a big one at that. If he was really tired going into this series, then I’d hate to be the team to face him when he’s rested.

As for the Devils, Keith Kinkaid started Game 1, started Game 2, and was removed from Game 2. Kinkaid’s numbers look ugly. He gave up nine goals in his two appearances and posted a total save percentage of 80.4% per Breaking it down by strength, according to, six of the goals against were at even strength as Kinkaid had an ESSV% of 84.2%; the other three were power play goals, where he yielded a PK save percentage of 62.5%. I would argue that none of those nine goals were really bad goals or that Kinkaid particularly badly. However, the switch to Cory Schneider was not only understandable, but Schneider more than justified the decision.

Schneider appeared in Game 2 after the fifth goal against Kinkaid and started Games 3, 4, and 5. In all situations, Schneider gave up six goals with a total save percentage of 95% per Schneider ended up being the Devils’ best penalty killer as he conceded two power play goals in Game 3 - and nothing at all in Games 4 and 5. He finished the series with a PK save percentage of 93.1% and an even strength save percentage of 95.3% per Even if we pretend to count goals that did not count from Game 4, Schneider’s numbers would still be excellent. I do not think it would be fair to say that Schneider should have started the series. Schneider was coming into the postseason cold and Kinkaid was hot. That said, Schneider was great in this series. A lot of his critics should be a bit quieter considering how he was the Devils’ best player in Game 5 and bounced back from two first period goals in Game 4 to keep the game a one-goal game until the end. Unfortunately, he did not get a lot of support - especially in the goals department.

The Devils-Lightning First Round Series by 5-on-5 Play

Devils-Lightning 5v5 Team Stats Game By Game
Data from

In my series preview, I noted how much better of a 5-on-5 team the Lightning were compared to the Devils. You can see here that the Lightning ended up being the better team in 5-on-5 team stats over the series. All across the board too from goals (Goals For and Goals Against), shooting attempts a.k.a. Corsi (Corsi For and Corsi Against), shots (Shots For and Shots Against), scoring chances (shots in the homeplate, Scoring Chances For and Scoring Chances Against), and high danger scoring chances (shots in the slot and at the crease, High Danger Corsi For and High Danger Corsi Against). Check out Natural Stat Trick’s glossary for details on the abbreviations. But you don’t need to know the details that being below 50% in all categories from a Devils perspective is a bad thing.

In fact, they were only above 50% in a few areas. The Devils held an edge in Corsi For and Shots For percentages in Game 2. They held an edge in high danger scoring chances in Games 4 and 5. They were even in Game 5. That’s it. Even those come with some dampening factors. For Game 2, the Devils were down three to four goals and really played to the score in that one. Even then, the CF% ended up not being that much in the Devils’ favor, so the Lightning got their attempts across - which means they had the puck, they were in the Devils’ end, they were making moves, etc. As for the high danger chances, while it’s good to get in close, it’s not good to not score on them and it’s not helpful to lead there but be behind in total scoring chances and total shots too. Not everything dangerous to a team is in high danger locations; the Lightning earned their two goals in Game 5 from outside those spots, in fact. Speaking of Game 5, breaking even is not usually bad but it’s not good when the team is losing for most of the game and they cannot even take more shooting attempts than their opponents.

Looking at this game by game also shows that the Lightning defense really came to play. Outside of Game 2, which again was boosted by the Devils being down by a whole lot of goals, the Devils were held to 23 or fewer shots in 5-on-5 play and kept well below 20 scoring chances. This helped Vasilevskiy from getting too much work to do as well as help keep the ice tilted in Tampa’s favor. It could be argued that the Lightning could have done more to generate 5-on-5 shots as they did not exactly blow the Devils out of the water in that regard. However, they took more attempts and were able to get more shots in advantagous areas. Just as importantly, they ended up finishing more of their plays. After being shut out in 5-on-5 play in Game 3, they put up two each in Games 4 and 5 that ended up making the difference in both games. Conversely, the Devils were shut out in those games.

As a final 5-on-5 point, I included the ice time and the percentage of regulation the 5-on-5 ice time took up (5v5 TOI %). Even though Games 3 and 4 had a lot of penalties called for both teams and Game 5 featured five Tampa Bay power plays, the majority of the game was still held in 5-on-5 situations. Tampa Bay went into this series expected to be the better 5-on-5 team and they were.

Why? It goes to their depth of talent. The Lightning had several players finish the season well above 50% CF%. While the Devils put together Coleman, Noesen, and Zajac as a “checking” line of sorts, matching them against one line meant a less favorable matchup for another. The Point line gave the Devils fits in the first two games such that the Zajac line was switched to them in Game 3. The line of Miller, Kucherov, and Stamkos “awoke” after that point of the series. The unit of Gourde, Cireli, and Killorn also gave the Devils problems. This doesn’t even touch a defense where McDonagh showed why he was worth acquiring, Hedman’s only big fault was spearing Hischier in the crotch in Game 3 - and he got away with that, Sergachev is their Will Butcher, and Dan Girardi was not even terrible (really). Per Natural Stat Trick, Girardi was the only Lightning player to have a CF% below 50% in this series (and only at 49.15%, so woah), and the Lightning had only 11 players finish below 50% SF%. What this means is that the Lightning attacked from different parts of their lineup in 5-on-5 play and that is indicative of the match-up issues the Devils had from the top lines all the way down to the fourth lines (seriously, Tampa Bay’s did good business and New Jersey’s, well, kept changing because it was not good).

As for the Devils, the Zajac line was the only regular line to finish above 50% in CF% per Natural Stat Trick. Meaning, when they were on the ice, the Devils were attacking more often than the Lightning. This was also true in terms of shots and high-danger chances either. They did not score a lot, but the Lightning did not beat them a whole lot either. Noesen was injured and held out of Game 5, but he could have been useful. But looking at that last link, there’s a lot to be underwhelmed by. Twelve players finished with CF%s below 46%, which is pretty bad. It means a lot of Devils were pinned back in 5-on-5 play. All but Greene were out-shot and all but Brian Boyle (2-1), Butcher (2-1), and Maroon (1-1) were out-scored in 5-on-5 play. The long and short of that is that a lot of Devils were beaten upon between forwards and defensemen.

Teams cannot win or lose on CF% and SF% and HDCF% alone. But in terms of controlling a game and trying to get onto the scoreboard, you need the puck and you need to be able to do that. The Lightning did a good job of that. The Devils did not. That was a big reason why this series went the way it did in five games.

But what about special teams?

The Devils-Lightning First Round Series by Special Teams

This is All About the Jersey so stats are from the Devils’ perspective. First, the penalty kill against the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning power play.

Devils-Lightning PK Team Stats Game by Game
Data from Natural Stat Trick and

The power plays against the Devils ramped up after Game 1. The successes also increased. The Devils conceded on their first PK of the series, two out of three in Game 2, and two out of five in Game 3 before coming up perfect in Games 4 and 5. The Lightning ended up finishing the series with a conversion rate of 26.3%, which is a rather good rate. Their future opponents should note that they will enter the second round on a scoreless streak, though.

While the Devils kept the Lightning to five power play goals, these goals boosted them when they were scored in Games 1, 2, and 3. The one in Game 1 put the Devils down 3 goals. The two in Game 2 broke a 1-1 tie in the second period and later put the Devils down 1-4 in the second. The two in Game 3 put the Lightning up 0-1 and 1-2, which were both eventually responded. Good on the Devils to shut them down in Games 4 and 5, but the PP did their damage early in this series.

In terms of how much the Devils allowed, this is where Tampa Bay’s power play strength lies. I’m a big believer in looking at these stats to see how the power play process is working. That would tell me how well it is functioning more than the goals. The Lightning put up plenty of attempts, shots, and scoring chances. The latter is key because it shows that their formation, while it was a 1-3-1, were able to get inside the circles, to the middle, and to the crease against the Devils’ PK triangle-plus-one formation. The Lightning worked the puck well enough to get time, space, and goals from those parts of the ice that the Devils PK should be focused on defending. When Schneider entered the series, he helped out a lot - especially in Game 5. He still had to face quite a bit to do so.

By the way, what about the offensive aspect? Well, the potential X-factor never really happened for the Devils. Vasilevskiy had six shorthanded shots to face and he stopped them all. The lone shorthanded goal of the series was an empty netter that iced Game 3.

Now (sigh), let’s look at the Devils power play.

Devils-Lightning PP Team Stats Game by Game
Data from Natural Stat Trick and

Amazingly, the Devils had as many opportunities as the Lightning (19) and nearly as much power play time in this series. Despite Tampa Bay receiving five power plays to the Devils’ one in Game 5, this was evened out over the series. Did the Devils take full advantage? Well, not really.

The positive here is that the Devils had two 5-on-3 situations and they converted on both. That’s great. They also had a number of power plays where they would generate good shots, take good attempts, and make good decision the puck. However, it was often feast or famine for the Devils power play as a lot of opportunities were left begging. Take Game 4 for example. The Devils had six total power plays - and they had three in a row where they ended up shotless. In total, they did not even average a shot per power play. That’s really sad, especially since the Tampa Bay penalty kill was porous during the regular season. While in Game 3, there were some advantages where the Devils brought it to Tampa Bay and forced Vasilevskiy to be great in his crease.

Still, we’re talking about a series where the Devils had seventeen 5-on-4 situations and scored on exactly one of them - the first one of the whole series. Given that the Devils were beaten in 5-on-5 play, a power play that was more threatening and had more finish could have really helped on the scoreboard. The Devils did not have that and it hurt their cause in this series big time. Could you imagine if they converted on any of their 5-on-4 power plays in Game 4 or their sole one in Game 5? They would have tied up those games and perhaps they would have ended differently and this series may still be going on. Alas, they did not and it is not and so I regret it.

The big tell in terms of how these two teams performed is in the scoring chance count. While the Devils attempted and shot the puck almost as much as Tampa Bay given similar power play ice times and situations, the Devils were kept outside of the dangerous parts of the zone more often. The Lightning PK did well to clean up loose pucks and prevent easy passes across or to the middle. With only three goals scored by the Devils power play on top of fewer scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances, I’d say they did their job. At least the Devils did not concede a shorthanded goal.

I do want to point out one big difference between both team’s power play units. While the Lightning may have more talented players and more players to select from for a power play, they would often set up in a 1-3-1 like the Devils. The difference was that there was much more movement by Tampa Bay. The winger and defenseman would cross up as needed, the man in the middle and at the crease would go to one side to support as needed, their puck movement forced the Devils to be tentative since being aggressive would have left a wide open passing or shooting lane. It worked as the Lightning power play units were able to get in close and in good shooting locations more often than the Devils’ power play units. In contrast, the Devils tended to isolate their 5-on-4 power plays with only two skaters moving and passing the puck to each other. This was a series where while some numbers were not so different, others were and it played a big role in how the power plays functioned.

Three Stars in the Devils-Lightning First Round Series for Each Team

Lightning: Andrei Vasilevskiy was fantastic in this series. A big reason why the Devils won the Eddie Lack game was because he was bad in net in that game. That Vasilevskiy did not show up. While the votes are already in, he looked like an actual Vezina-candidate in these five games. He’s my first star from my stand point.

Nikita Kucherov certainly made an impact simply by producing so much. Granted, he was credited for a Sami Vatanen own goal and he had two empty-netters. But goals are goals and the fact he led in assists and shots as well mean he ended up making a huge impact even if he wasn’t one of the best (or a) play drivers on the Lightning in this series. He absolutely was wrecking the Devils early on the power play and by series end, he looked like the player who crushed it all season long at evens. He’s my second star because 10 points in the postseason is impressive regardless of how some of them happened.

As for someone who was a play driver, look at Alex Killorn. He scored four goals; finishing Kucherov’s great passes for all three of his power play goals. In addition, he put up a CF% of 56.57% and a SF% of 54.55% in 5-on-5 play as he caused match-up problems for the Devils. While a lot of the other Lightning players played rather well, Killorn stood out that much more to me. He’s me third star.

Devils: Cory Schneider put in an awesome run of performances in the playoffs. You can’t complain about a goalie posting a 95% save percentage. The issue was not with him. Throw in the fact that absolutely none of the goals against Kinkaid were soft goals, and it’s apparent that goaltending was not a concern for the Devils in this series. Still, he was a big reason why the Devils were still close on the score board in Games 4 and 5 and he held on big time in Game 3. You wanted Big Games from Schneider? You got them. Too bad the rest of the team could not support him adequately on offense. So I’m giving him my first star for the Devils.

Taylor Hall made his playoff debut and showed immediately that the playoffs were better for it. His pace, his drive, and his intensity from this season carried on through to the postseason. Hall had one (1) bad game in Game 4. He was one of the few bright spots about Game 1 and he was on fire in Game 3 with a huge performance. Hall has largely put the team on his back on offense this season. He did so again in the postseason with two goals, four assists, and 21 shots. That he did not finish too far below 50% CF% despite the tough match-ups speaks to what he was able to make happen on the ice. He’s my second star just because Schneider sparkled that much more.

As a third star, Blake Coleman has continued his breakout season by being all that he could be in this postseason. Sometimes he went over the line and took some penalties. But the pest was one of the few Devils who hustled hard in every game, he never gave up on the game, and he held his own in 5-on-5 (above 50% CF% on that Zajac line) and PK play (he created a good number of those six shorthanded shots on net) against one of the best forward groups in the NHL. He also scored a critical empty net goal in Game 3 and gave some hope with a goal in Game 2. As the only other Devil to score more than one goal in this series, he’s my third star for the Devils.

Concluding Thoughts

Back in the series preview, I wrote this as an executive summary about how the series would go:

The New Jersey Devils are underdogs to the Tampa Bay Lightning. More than just by record alone, the Lightning have been a superior 5-on-5 team and power play team both throughout this season and in the three games against the Devils. For New Jersey get wins against Tampa Bay, they’ll need to emulate what they did in those three games: get great goaltending and keep up with Tampa Bay’s scoring. The good news is that it is possible; the Devils won all three of those games. The bad news is that it will likely be an uphill climb unless the Devils can come away from Florida with one or, ideally, two wins; other players not named Hall step up on offense; Kinkaid plays great; and the Devils don’t try to out-perform in what Tampa Bay already does best. It’s a lot to ask and hope for, but it isn’t impossible.

Well, Kinkaid did his best and was lit up and Schneider was fantastic. But the Devils could not keep up with Tampa Bay’s scoring. They were dug into deep holes in Games 1 and 2, so much so that they could not recover. In Game 3, they did with two one-goal comebacks; but they could not equalize in Games 4 and 5 despite the play of Schneider. That hurt the most.

The other hopes did not pan out. New Jersey did not win a game in Tampa Bay. Nobody other than Hall really stepped up on offense unless you want to be really charitable about Coleman. As far as the out-performance, Tampa Bay played a more aggressive, grind-it-out style than I expected. They chipped and chased and won lots of battles. Their forecheck gave the Devils plenty of issues and kept their own offense going in New Jersey’s end of the rink. They took a lot of calls in Games 3 and 4, but drew a lot in those games as well as Game 5. The Lightning showed that they can do more than just bury teams with speed, goals off rushes, and a potent power play. They showed that they are a Stanley Cup contender.

The Devils could not match them. Certainly not in 5-on-5 play. While the PK eventually stepped up, the Tampa Bay power play flexed their muscle on the Devils’ PK early in the series. As for the power play, the Tampa Bay power play plus their own issues led to a lot of unconverted opportunities. Their best players produced and got support. The Devils had some production from Hall and a little bit from others, but not nearly enough. The only hope that turned out was the goaltending, but if the team is going to hang a goalie out to dry like they did to Kinkaid, it’s still going to be ugly. And a goalie playing great like Schneider doesn’t guarantee that goals will be scored to make it a win.

In short, the Lightning were truly the better team on the ice overall in this series. It is as simple as that.

Your Take

Now that you read through the stats and how this series broke down for both teams, I hope it provides an understanding of what we just saw and what could be worked on for 2018-19 and beyond. What do you think? How would you regard how the Devils played? Who impressed you on both sides? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils-Lightning series (please do not turn this into a free agent wishlist post, you’ll get your chance soon) in the comments. Thank you for reading.