Brendan Smith almost gave away a goal to Nikita Kucherov by turning the puck towards the crease. Kucherov took it, but Vanecek made a great save to keep it out. The referees blew play dead, and Steven Stamkos came crashing for the puck and pushed the pad into the net. After a short review, the officials called no goal for goaltender interference, to the chagrin to some fans in Tampa.
The first big chance for the New Jersey Devils came nearly seven minutes in, when Curtis Lazar sent Alexander Holtz into the offensive zone. The Lightning had guys back, so Holtz had to make a move, taking away most of his angle to shoot. He got it on Andrei Vasilevskiy’s pad, and Chris Tierney tried to shovel the rebound into the net, but it was to no avail.
Erik Haula, with the first line coming on, dropped the puck after gaining the blueline for Dawson Mercer. Mercer took the lane that Haula cleared for him, cutting across the crease and taking the puck close to the goal line. With Vasilevskiy down, he banked it into the net! 1-0, Devils!
Not long after the goal, Luke Hughes gave up a breakaway to Nikita Kucherov. Vanecek came out a bit more than usual, and Kucherov shot wide! After the Lightning had another shot blocked, Jesper Bratt and Tyler Toffoli took it the other way for a two-on-one. The pass across would have been difficult to make, so Bratt moved towards the slot and shot on goal — but Vasilevskiy made the save.
The Tampa Bay Lightning tied the game off a faceoff shot, as Luke Glendening was alone in front to tip a Perbix shot from the point. Nemec should have kept a bit tighter to his man, as Vanecek had no chance on the deflection. 1-1.
The Devils did a very good job of not letting the Lightning get the momentum. The McLeod line with the Bahl-Miller pairing imposed their will on the Hagel-Cirelli-Paul line. A few minutes later, Nathan Bastian took Erik Cernak out along the wall in pursuit of the puck, leading to Gage Goncalves taking Bastian down. Bastian had to go down the tunnel after the play, and the Devils got a two minute power play.
Mercer, Hischier, Bratt, Toffoli, and Luke Hughes took the ice for the power play. The Devils controlled off the draw, and Tampa got a clear when Bratt was taken down and rendered unable to complete a pass. Luke gave it away by Vanecek, and Glendening scored. 2-1. Right through Vitek.
Dave Mishkin calls offensive powerhouse Luke Glendening's 2nd goal of the game pic.twitter.com/C1iVstlVyh— Bucs Rays Bolts (@BucsRaysBoltsYT) January 12, 2024
Nemec replaced Hughes for the rest of the power play. Calvin de Haan took a puck to the face and went down to the ice, and play was blown dead when the Lightning touched the puck. He was incensed that the referees did not immediately blow it, with blood on his visor. But play resumed for the final 30 seconds after the blood was cleaned off the ice. Brandon Hagel got right behind the Devils, and Chris Tierney chased him down, forcing him out enough for Vitek to make a save. Tierney got the wraparound attempt too, and the period ended with a 2-1 score.
Cernak and de Haan did not return for the start of the second period. Michael McLeod had a chance in tight, but Vasilevskiy kept the puck between his legs. Nate Bastian, after declining some invitations to fight, set up Max Willman from behind the net, but the Lightning kept it out.
About six and a half minutes in, Calvin de Haan returned to the Lightning bench. Brendan Smith was called for roughing Michael Eyssimont as Eyssimont dumped the puck past him. Smith’s glove got in Eysimmont’s face. Bahl took Smith’s spot on the first penalty kill. Erik Haula beat Brayden Point for the draw, and the Devils cleared. Kevin Bahl made a good play to deny an entry, but his clearance deflected off the linesman and out of play, giving the Lightning another offensive zone draw.
After the Devils killed this one, they were called for another penalty when Anthony Cirelli got slashed in the offensive zone. With the extra attacker, Brayden Point scored an easy one-timer from the slot. 3-1.
Thankfully, the McLeod line and the Hughes-Marino pairing would keep the Lightning pinned back for a couple minutes. With a group tired from an icing call, Luke Hughes made a big play to keep possession at the blueline, leading to a lengthy battle for the puck in the corner. Hughes was helping all over the ice, and he worked it back up high. Marino blasted on net, and the puck found its way into the net! 3-2! McLeod got credit for it at first, but it was changed to Jesper Bratt’s goal.
Brayden Point missed a breakaway wide after the goal. Tyler Toffoli was going to take the puck the other way after the Devils defended the Lightning, but Point was going after Colin Miller behind the play. The whistle ended Toffoli’s possession. Point had hit Vitek behind the play, and Miller intercepted Point coming back at the goalie after Vitek gave him a whack. Play went to four-on-four, with Simon Nemec and Brandon Hagel going off.
It took the Devils a long time to win possession from the Lightning at four-on-four, but Nico Hischier finally took possession in the defensive zone. After being pushed off the puck by Nick Paul, Nico intercepted the pass from Paul and sent it ahead for Bratt. Bratt’s shot was saved by Vasilevskiy. On the other end, Colin Miller tripped Darren Raddysh. On the power play for the Lightning, Nikita Kucherov came hard in on goal, and Vitek made a save spreading the pads out wide! The Lightning kept at it, with a couple of wide slap shots, before the period ended with 1:09 of carryover power play time.
Play was at five-on-four to begin the third period. The Lightning won the draw, but the Devils denied the entry and cleared the puck. The Lightning gained the zone and worked it to the corner, engaged with the Devils along the boards for much of their remaining power play. Marino played it ahead to Mercer, and Mercer dumped it to kill the remainder of the power play. Colin Miller came out of the box and skated off, and the Devils dumped into the offensive zone for a change.
Then Nate Bastian struck again. Coming hard in the neutral zone, he broke up a pass and kicked the puck to his skate. All alone on Vasilevskiy, he scored! 3-3 tie game with most of the third left to play! Erik Haula almost took the lead a couple minutes later, but he rang it right on the underside of the crossbar.
Mr. 200 with a play looking pic.twitter.com/cvRhUqR9U5— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 12, 2024
The Devils looked like they would not be deterred. Brendan Smith uncorked a slap shot from the point after Simon Nemec broke the Lightning down and passed it back up. Vasilevskiy never covered the puck, and Michael McLeod poked it into the net! 4-3 Devils lead! But Tampa challenged for offsides, as Nemec made a play at the blueline to keep possession before the play. Connor Sheary had carried the puck back into the zone with Tyler Toffoli still in the zone. The goal was called back, as it was ruled Sheary did not take the puck all the way back over before Nemec poked it away. Back to 3-3.
Kevin Bahl sprung Jesper Bratt for a breakaway past the halfway point of the period. The initial shot got through Vasilevskiy, but fell behind him in the blue paint. He was able to turn and get the blocker and glove on it, keeping the game tied. Dawson Mercer had a couple chances off feeds from Nico Hischier, but his second shot was too weak with Vasilevskiy down — he could not lift it on goal.
The Devils committed delay of game with 4:09 to play, with Erik Haula sending the puck over the glass. The Devils sent it down right off the draw. Steven Stamkos shot the puck wide after Point whiffed a one-timer. Another shot was deflected wide. Vitek Vanecek made a big save on a Victor Hedman slap shot, freezing play with 55 seconds to kill. Jon Cooper called timeout here.
Michael McLeod won the drawm and Brendan Smith got the puck to center ice. The Devils took the puck away again, and Nico sent it down the ice. John Marino didn’t clear the puck and got a backhand saucer pass intercepted, and Vitek saw a quick wrist shot zip right past him and wide of goal. Then Marino cleared it. After the kill, Jesper Bratt had a rush chance with Haula. Bratt took the shot — but Vasilevskiy got it with the blocker.
The officials blew play dead in the corner in the Devils’ end to give the Lightning a free offensive zone draw just as Colin Miller was getting the puck out. Erik Haula won the draw after an exchange with Stamkos, and the Devils pushed the puck out to the neutral zone. Both teams were content to go to overtime.
Erik Haula lost the draw, and Nico Hischier came onto the ice. The Lightning sent some passes just too far and had to recollect in their own end. Bratt took the puck away from Hagel, and he sent Luke Hughes up the other side. Hughes shot into the glove, and the referees let Vasilevskiy take a second to uncover and make a pass. They didn’t call play dead after Vasilevskiy gloved another shot from Haula, and Tampa Bay took it the other way and scored. Vitek was well out of position for the shot.
Can’t Ask for More Defensively
I had to walk around a bit after tonight’s game. To be down Jack Hughes, Timo Meier, Ondrej Palat, Dougie Hamilton, and Jonas Siegenthaler and still dominate the Tampa Bay Lightning at five-on-five and come out with a loss is absolutely killer. Vitek saw 10 five-on-five shots against tonight. He saw 20 in total. On just 2.13 xGA, Vitek gave up four goals. How many games with an .800 save percentage do we have to watch?
Even the Willman-Bowers-Bastian line came strong with five shots to only one against. They brought a heavy and fast forecheck to the Lightning. The Haula-Hischier-Mercer line led to a plethora of chances for Mercer, as Nico continually pushed Tampa deeper into their own end. And the Bratt-McLeod-Toffoli line was electric. Toffoli looked the most engaged I have seen him as a Devil, perhaps energized by McLeod’s more direct style.
It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that the Devils struck first. It didn’t matter if the Bahl-Miller pairing held its own in over 20 even strength minutes. It didn’t matter that Brendan Smith was actually passable for most of the game on the back end, paired mostly with Simon Nemec (they had a 73.42 xGF% and controlled shots, 7-2). It didn’t matter how many times the defense helped avert the Tampa rush attacks. It didn’t matter that defensively, this looked like a completely different team tonight: one that played every inch of the ice, hounded the puck, and bottled up the middle. Nothing mattered.
No, Vitek Vanecek was in goal. So the second there’s a halfway decent shot at the goal, it has good odds of hitting twine. So when the Devils came back from 3-1 to tie the game and appeared to take it, it was soul crushing to see the goal come back off the board, because it became a one-shot game for Tampa. I mean, they had five shots between the third period and overtime. The last one hit the net. Skaters did their job tonight.
What did you think of tonight’s game? How frustrated are you with the goaltending this team has? What did you think of their effort against Tampa? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.