Devils-Lightning Game 5: Tampa Bay Will Finish Things at Home

Matthew Jordan

Friday, April 20, 2018 1:23 PM UTC

Friday, Apr. 20, 2018 1:23 PM UTC

The Tampa Bay Lightning can book their place in the Eastern Conference semifinals with a victory over the visiting New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon.

Game 5: New Jersey (1-3) at Tampa Bay (3-1)Free NHL Pick: Lightning PLBest Line Offered: Bovada

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There are three Stanley Cup playoff games on Saturday’s schedule, and the first team that can advance is Tampa Bay as it hosts New Jersey in Game 5 at Amalie Arena. Because nothing says playoff hockey like an afternoon game in balmy, sunny Florida this one has a puck drop of 3 p.m. ET on NBC (some markets get Blue Jackets-Capitals).

The Lightning surely don’t want to mess around here and worry about a potential return trip to New Jersey on Monday for Game 6. Because who wants to go to Newark if they don’t have to? Ideally, Tampa Bay wins Saturday and watches as the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs play a seven-game war of attrition with multiple overtimes and injuries (although Boston can clinch Saturday night). The Lightning will play the winner of that series.

On the Bovada series line, Tampa Bay is -2600 and New Jersey +1400. The Bolts are +210 East favourites and +550 for the Cup, tied for third with Pittsburgh behind Nashville (+400) and Vegas (+500).

Lightning fans surely hope this chance to clinch a series at home goes better than last time. In the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals, Tampa Bay had a shot to knock out Pittsburgh in Game 6. However, the Penguins rolled to a 5-2 victory and then won Game 7 back at home 2-1 on the way to their first of two straight Stanley Cups.

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Kucherov Avoids Suspension

Let’s examine the biggest story line for Game 5 and that involves Lightning star winger and Hart Trophy candidate Nikita Kucherov. He is destroying the Devils in this series with four goals and five assists. He’s already just one point shy of Vincent Lecavalier for the second-most playoff points in Lightning history. Kucherov had two goals and a helper in Tampa’s 3-1 road win in Game 4 on Wednesday. Kucherov also laid a controversial high check on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen with 3:51 left in the first period.

Vatanen would not return to the game and Kucherov wasn’t penalized. The NHL’s department of player safety looked at the hit and ruled that Vatanen's head was not the main point of contact on the hit, which is a determining factor for "illegal check to the head." Thus, no suspension for Kucherov. You can look at the hit in the below tweet. Guys have been suspended for similar things – these playoffs have had three other head shots that both resulted in one-game suspensions.

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Kucherov hits Vatanen, no penalty called & Vatanen's off to the locker room #NJDevils #GoBolts

— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) April 19, 2018

The Devils undoubtedly are furious as on top of Kucherov playing Game 5, Vatanen is looking iffy. He didn’t originally travel with the team to Tampa but hasn’t been ruled out as of this writing. Vatanen is the Devils’ No. 1 blueliner and had been leading the Devils in ice time this series. He has a goal in this series and is minus-1.

It will be Cory Schneider back in net for the Devils. He replaced an ineffective Keith Kinkaid in Game 2 and Schneider was great in the Game 3 win with 34 saves. He had 34 more in Game 4. Andrei Vasilevskiy, named a Vezina Trophy finalist this week, simply was better with 27 saves, including three on breakaways. The only goal came with the Devils on a 5-on-3 advantage. Will the Bolts have winger Ryan Callahan for this one? He has missed the past two with an upper-body injury.

  • Devils are 1-6 in the last 7 meetings in Tampa Bay.
  • Devils are 2-5 in their last 7 road games.
  • Lightning are 11-4 in their last 15 vs. Metropolitan.

Everything seems to be lined up for Tampa here with Kucherov in the clear and Vatanen questionable. Tampa won Games 1-2 at home by multiple goals and will again here for a Saturday NHL pick.

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