Can Devils Put Up Fight Against Top-Seeded Lightning?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018 11:17 PM UTC

Tuesday, Apr. 10, 2018 11:17 PM UTC

The Tampa Bay Lightning just had the best regular season in franchise history, and they open the Stanley Cup playoffs at home against East No. 8 seed New Jersey on Thursday.

Game 1: New Jersey (97 points) at Tampa Bay (113 points)Free NHL Pick: Lightning & UnderBest Line Offered: Bovada

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Five games on the NHL playoff slate Thursday, and it all gets started from Tampa at 7 p.m. ET on the NHL Network as the Lightning host the Devils. This looks like a mismatch considering the Lightning set a franchise record with 113 points and the Devils snuck into the No. 8 seed in the East with 97.

However, New Jersey certainly won’t be intimidated considering it was 3-0 in the season series. Since 1993-94, there hadn’t been a first-round series in which the team with the fewest points was unbeaten against the team with the most points in their respective conference

The Devils won 5-4 at home in a shootout back on Oct. 17, although it should be noted that then-Lightning backup Peter Budaj was in net and not Vezina Trophy candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy. On Feb. 17 in Tampa, the Devils won 4-3. Then-New Jersey backup Eddie Lack was in net and had a career-high 48 saves. Finally, on March 24 in Newark, the Devils prevailed 2-1. The two netminders who will be in there Thursday, New Jersey’s Keith Kinkaid and Vasilevskiy started that one.

So, while it is impressive that the Devils won all three meetings, there were extenuating circumstances in two of them and all were by one goal. The home team is 5-1 in the past six meetings overall.

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Kinkaid to the Rescue

Most thought the Devils were cooked when No. 1 goaltender Cory Schneider went down with an injury on Jan. 23, but Kinkaid has been one of the best in the league since by going 19-6-1 in his past 26 decisions. He finished 26-10-3 with a 2.77 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. Schneider is healthy now but the clear No. 2. Kinkaid, though, has never played in a postseason game.

The Devils weren’t overly great at anything, ranking 15th overall in scoring and 17th in GAA, although they were 10th on the power play and eighth on the PK. Taylor Hall deserves Hart Trophy consideration after he set career highs with 39 goals, 54 assists and 93 points. Rookie No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier was second on the team with 52 points.

Tampa Bay backed into the East’s top seed when Boston was upset at home on Sunday in the season finale by Florida; the Bruins only needed a point in that game to claim the Atlantic Division and East’s top seed. Now Boston has to play a much tougher foe in Toronto. The Lightning set a franchise record for wins (54) and points despite going just 5-4-1 in the final 10 games.

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You never forget your first #StanleyCup Playoffs berth. #NowWeRise

— x - New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 10, 2018

The Lightning led the NHL in scoring behind Hart candidate Nikita Kucherov (100 points) and Steven Stamkos (86). The latter did sit out the final three games of the regular season due to a lower-body injury but is expected on the ice Thursday. Vasilevskiy had a fine season at 44-17-3 with a 2.62 GAA and .920 and was the Vezina favorite entering the All-Star break. Post-break, he had a 3.37 GAA and .902 SV.

While No. 8 seeds almost never upset the No. 1s in NBA first-round series, it happens plenty in the NHL. It did last year in the West, with Nashville sweeping Chicago and going all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. At BetOnline, the Lightning and Predators are co-favorites at +475 to win the Cup.

I like Tampa in six in this series and with a 3-1 victory for a Thursday NHL pick. Thus, also lean ‘under,’ which is 5-2 in the Lightning’s past seven overall.

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