Earlier tonight, the Florida Panthers defeated the Boston Bruins. This game had huge implications for the New Jersey Devils. With New Jersey’s loss in Washington, they finished the season in the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. This meant they would face the winner of the Atlantic Division. As it turned out, if Boston won, they’d win it. If they didn’t, the Tampa Bay Lightning would be the Atlantic Division winners. Florida won 4-2 in regulation and so the New Jersey Devils will play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Yes, it still feels good to type “Devils,” “will play,” and “2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs” in the same sentence.
Anyway, a full series preview will be made soon (read: tomorrow), but with this news, here is some basic information you should know.
First, the schedule. This series will begin in Tampa Bay on Thursday. Games 1 (April 12), 2 (April 14), 5 (April 21 if necessary), and 7 (April 25 if necessary) will be there. Games 3 and 4 will be at the Rock and will take place next week on April 16 and April 18, respectively. So would Game 6 on April 23, if necessary. The team has tweeted out the full schedule by dates with times for the guaranteed first four dates. I don’t know why Games 3 and 4 will have 7:30 PM start times but it is what it is.
Second, the Devils indeed defeat the Lightning in the season series. Three games, three wins. I’ll go into more detail in the series preview, but I would be cautious about getting too hyped about the 3-0-0 record:
- The first win was a 5-4 shootout win on October 17. There are no shootouts (or 3-on-3 overtime) in the playoffs.
- The second win was a 4-3 win on February 17 where, somehow, Eddie Lack made 48 saves and outplayed expected starter, Andrei Vasilevskiy.
- The third win was a 2-1 win on March 24 which was impressive but required Keith Kinkaid standing on his head and Devils fans like myself hoping that one bounce did not go awry.
I’m not trying to be a hater, but let us not pretend the Devils somehow “owned” Tampa Bay or had their number all season. I’ll have more details in the series preview.
Third, there was not really a “preferable” playoff opponent. If the Devils won on Saturday and moved up to third place, it’s a match-up against a Pittsburgh team that is coming off two Championships and played way better against New Jersey in their previous two meetings (which were 1-1) than the previous two. If Florida lost, then it’s a Devils match-up against a Boston team that features one of the best lines in hockey plus one of the better goalies in Rask. If somehow Columbus became the opponent, well, that’s just bad for everyone. Basically, every one of the Devils’ potential opponents would have created a problem.
The good news is that the Devils are a problem for everyone else too. Taylor Hall has not been stopped, only slowed down at points during this season. Nico Hischier has emerged to be a solid NHL player right now and not for the future. Kyle Palmieri is a strong shooter from the wing. There’s depth at forward whether it’s from checking by Blake Coleman and Stefan Noesen, speed from Miles Wood and Michael Grabner, and grinding play from Patrick Maroon and Brian Boyle. There’s a strong penalty kill featuring a pest who loves to create shots in Blake Coleman and a speedster who will frighten opponents if he can finish plays in Michael Grabner. If he’s not hot, then Keith Kinkaid is quite toasty. There’s even an X-factor or two in the potential return of Marcus Johansson and a power play that seems to either feast or famine. Most of all, the Devils have been out-played and out-shot in many games in March and on the road - and still found ways to stay in games and even win them. Anyone expecting them to be an “easy out,” is going to be rudely awakened.
Ahead of a full series preview, I want your initial reaction to this news. The Devils will be playing Tampa Bay in the first round. Who do you got? Give your take in the comments and please vote in our flash reaction poll. Thank you for reading.
The Devils will play Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs. Who will take this series?
This poll is closed
The New Jersey Devils
The Tampa Bay Lightning