New Jersey Devils: Playoff preview, notes, schedule and prediction for round 1

NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 05: Keith Kinkaid #1 of the New Jersey Devils takes a water break during the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center on April 5, 2018 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Maple Leafs 2-1 to clinch a playoff position. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 05: Keith Kinkaid #1 of the New Jersey Devils takes a water break during the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center on April 5, 2018 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Maple Leafs 2-1 to clinch a playoff position. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The New Jersey Devils are back in the Stanley Cup playoffs! Let’s preview the matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The New Jersey Devils are back in the playoffs but it feels so much different than usual for the fan base. This time, the Devils must overcome being a low seed and beat all the mighty powers in the East mostly on the road.

The road is not something that scares the Devils or affected them all season long. What also helps them is they get to play the Tampa Bay Lightning. NJD has had the Lightning’s number all season long in the regular season. The Devils beat the Lightning in all three matchups this season.

But like in every sport, everyone in the Playoffs is 0-0. In order for the Devils to overcome the different demon that is the playoffs, they must do everything perfectly.

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The Lightning have elite point scorers in Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. Tampa Bay’s first line is as lethal as any in the entire league. It not on just luck they finished first in the entire Eastern conference, they are a fantastic team.

The biggest flaw the Devils need to expose this series has nothing to do with the Lighting’s offense. But rather their defense. Tampa is not terrible but the Devils beat them in the regular season simply by keeping up with their offense. The Devils do not, and should not game plan around being solid on defense. Even their best defense will not win them this series.

For New Jersey, their best bet is rely heavily on goaltenders making a solid amount of momentum swinging saves and firing shots away to keep up with Tampa’s pace.

The only thing that Devils fans should be worried about is something that they have been overcoming all year, inexperience. Nico, Hall, and Keith Kinkaid, amongst other have played zero post-season games in their careers. As far as the Lightning they are  basically a playoff stalwart.

The Devils adjust quickly, they have all year, but if the playoff nerves hit them early it can cost them the first two games on the road. That will be a difficult thing to overcome. However, the Devils thrive in environments and situations where no one expects them to be a factor, which in turn, gives them an advantage there.

As far as Taylor Hall playing in his first ever playoff game, that, to me, is a non-factor. Yes, the Stanley Cup playoffs changes players but he is used to pressure game this year alone. Once the Devils knew what they had to do to clinch, he was fine. He also played very well when he was on a mission to keep his point streak alive.

Another intriguing matchup for this series is not only the youths vs the vets but the goaltenders. I just mentioned how important big saves will be the Devils but the Lightning have a Vezina trophy candidate minding the nets for them.

Andrei Vasilevskiy been elite all season and Tampa Bay’s true number one. The Devils emerged late with Keith Kinkaid who has the green light in the series but he came on later in the season.

Is Vasilevskiy plays well to the Devils will need to be elite on offense. This is bound to be a high-scoring series. All the stats, analytics, and history backs that up. But that does still mean this is one of the most intriguing goalie matchups in the entire playoffs.

Both are capable of big nights and I’ll even predict both goalies will swap shutouts but they still grind out wins despite giving up a less than ideal amount of goals. That will be something to watch.

This will be one of the most intriguing matchups in the playoffs because of how close all three of their matchups were in the regular season.

Both teams are well-matched and both teams are loaded with charismatic talent.

My prediction is that this series will go the distance and seven games. I feel it’s too early to predict the Devils will make a run past this Conference Quarterfinal. However, taking a team that narrowly lost out on the President’s trophy the distance is something to hang their high about.

Here is the entire series Schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, April, 12. 7:00 PM @ Tampa Bay 

Game 2, Saturday, April 14, 3:00 PM @ Tampa Bay 

Game 3, Monday, April 16, 7:30 PM @ New Jersey 

Game 4, Wednesday, April 18, 7:30 PM @ New Jersey 

Game 5, Saturday, April 21, 2018, TBD @ Tampa Bay 

Game 6, Monday, April 23, TBD @ New Jersey 

Game 7, Wednesday, April 25 TBD @ Tampa Bay 

Please note that games 5,6, and 7 may not be needed to play but I think all of them will be. That is how close these teams are.

Another great thing for the Devils to hang their heads high about is they are relatively healthy. Only Marcus Johansson is injured. He is battling concussions but is not on IR. It is possible he sees ice time in the playoffs.

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He is an asset to this team but has missed significant time. To mess up the chemistry of the team might be something John Hynes does not want to do in a potentially short-series.

Here are some other interesting notes to keep an eye on:

  • The New Jersey Devils last played a playoff game on June 11, 2012. The Devils lost in the Stanley Cup finals that day.
  • Their last playoff game in Prudential Center was on June 9, 2012. Which the Devils won.
  • The Devils are 3-0-0 vs Tampa this year. They won twice in Newark and once in Tampa.
  • The Devils are unbeaten vs Tampa Bay in the playoffs in two meetings. Winning in 2003 in the second round and 2007 in the Round 1, the same as this round.
  • The Devils’ GM, Ray Shero. is a Stanley Cup Champion with Pittsburgh.
  • The Lightning GM, Steve Yzerman is a hockey legend who is a Cup Champion as a player and executive and led Tampa to the cup final in 2015 as the GM.
  • New Jersey’s head coach is John Hynes. This is his first playoffs as an NHL Coach.
  • Tampa’s Coach, Jon Cooper, coached the Lightning to the cup final in 2015.
  • New Jersey comes into this series as the underdog.

Regardless of what happens Devils fans enjoy this moment and this series.

Also, please stay tuned for all your Devils playoff coverage.