It's Never Easy: New Jersey Devils Survive Tampa Bay Lightning Comeback in 5-4 Win

Tonight, the New Jersey Devils won a game. They defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-4 in regulation, which was their first regulation win since the last time they went to Tampa Bay. That game was notable for how the Lightning saw a three goal lead, scored two goals within 10 minutes, and the Devils had to settle down to prevent the comeback. The Devils were successful and even got an insurance goal to win 4-2. Tonight, the same third period script came out only without the insurance goal.

Yes, the New Jersey Devils went into the third period with a three goal lead. They were up 5-2 with a power play to start the third. The Devils were out-shot and out-possessed by the Lightning in the second period; but that was driven by the scoreboard and four power plays more than anything else. The Devils only got 6 shots on net, but scored on half of them since two of them came on 2-on-0 plays and a third shot was just Dwayne Roloson playing soft on the post to allow Zach Parise to score within the first minute of the period. Roloson was pulled, but Mathieu Garon had no chance on the breakaways so he paid the price as well. As the Devils kept scoring, the Lightning steeled their resolve with shot after shot after shot. They got 17 on net, 10 on their four power plays, and were down three goals. If any team had a reason to be discouraged, it was them. If any team just had to play out the string, it was the Devils.

It was a fortunate period given how the first period went. The Devils scored incredibly early, 28 seconds into the game. Roloson mishandled a shot from Bryce Salvador of all people and Petr Sykora slammed it into the net. About five minutes later, just before the Devils' first power play ended, Dainius Zubrus tipped a shot by Matt Taormina past Roloson for a 2-0 lead. The Devils were flying for the first 10 minutes, winning pucks, making passes, forcing Roloson to be great with 10 quick shots. The Lightning had to slowly comeback, first by actually making 2-3 passes in a row, then by moving cleanly through the neutral zone, and then they got the chance to get shots. Steve Downie was missed by Nick Palmieri and he fired a shot through traffic to make it 2-1 and just a minute later (and before the end of the first), Blair Jones torches Alexander Urbom and Johan Hedberg to tie it up on a mostly individual effort. The big Devils lead was blown, the Bolts were rolling, and all were confused.

So to have a 3 goal second period in response was huge. To score two at evens and a third shorthanded was big. It should have deflated the Lightning. It didn't.

Two drab power plays later, the game got unfortunately interesting. Urbom was tagged for cross-checking. During the kill, which was Devils-esque as usual, something went awry. Taormina was hooked away from the puck in the corner and Patrik Elias whiffed on a clearance. Dominic Moore chipped a puck in between Salvador's skates and it lands right on Steven Stamkos' stick. Stamkos killed the shot and it's 5-3. The Lightning storm on, hoping for a quick one, but Moose and the Devils settle the game down. Yet, that wasn't enough. With Garon pulled in the final minute, the Devils killed some clock and got some possession, but never went for the empty netter. A scramble down low eventually finds Pavel Kubina down low seeing Stamkos wide open from the fray. Since it's 6-on-5, the guy on the flank is going to be open and, of all players, it was Stamkos. Pass, shot, score. It's 5-4 with 33.5 seconds left and every Devils fan around the world is panicking.

The Devils thankfully kill off the game. No shots allowed after Stamkos' second goal, and two points in the standings was earned.

On the one hand, this is not a cause for celebration. After all, the Devils were fortunate to get a three goal lead and nearly blew it. Instead of adding to it, they failed and the Lightning eventually got the chances needed to get back in the game. I understand and sort of agree with that viewpoint. On the other hand, it kind of is in a way. Since that last game in Tampa Bay, the Devils have either blown leads or botched comeback attempts in the third period. For the first time since the Buffalo game, the Devils scored 5 goals on a goaltender. Yes, the Devils nearly blew it but that's just it. They nearly coughed up the lead. It means they didn't fully waste their offensive outburst; they didn't drop points; and they didn't risk a loss. It's not ideal, it's not great, but it's a one step beyond the last three weeks or so of third periods.

One thing is clear: it's just never easy with this team. Then again, no one ever said it would or even should be. As usual, I have more detailed thoughts about this game after the jump. For the opposition's point of view, please check out Raw Charge.

The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts

The Highlights: This game had it all between big saves from Johan Hedberg and Tampa Bay's goalies, as well as big goals from both teams. This is your big highlight video from NHL.com:

Lovely Finish: The most impressive and important part of tonight's performance from the Devils was their finish on shots on net. Dwayne Roloson positioned himself very poorly on the first and third goals scored tonight, and Sykora and Parise took full advantage. It is rare for a player to get a breakaway in a game, much less a 2-on-0, and even much less two 2-on-0s. Parise led the way on both, he made a patient, inch-perfect pass on both, and both times it ended up in the back of the net. First from Ilya Kovalchuk and the second from Adam Henrique. The finishing was sensational for the most part; and it's the key reason we're talking about five goals scored. The Devils got opportunities and made the most of them. In fact, I'd argue that the only really poor finish by New Jersey was Elias shanking a shot on a wide-open net on a power play to close out the second period. But overall, I have no complaints about that.

Where I Praise Parise: Zach Parise had an awesome game tonight. Here's a rundown of his accomplishments from tonight. He played 20:44; he finished positive in Corsi at +6 going up against Tampa Bay's top line; he led the team in shots on net with 4 and attempts with 7; he was strong as ever on killing penalties; he backchecked as hard as he forechecked; he drew two of New Jersey's three power plays, he scored an early goal in the second period, and he led the rushes that led to the other two second period goals. Parise was named the first star of the game and completely deserved it. Bravo, Zach.

The Other Two Guys Who Skated with Parise: Henrique and Kovalchuk weren't too shabby either. Both finished +7 in Corsi, which is impressive on it's own since the Devils were a -12 due to their leads for much of this game. Henrique only had one shot on net, but it went in; and he picked up assists on Zubrus' and Parise's goals. He also went 11-for-21 on draws, which is a nice point in his favor. Kovalchuk wasn't as lethal with only two shots on net, with three attempts blocked and one miss. Still, he was a positive possession player, he followed through on forechecks and dump-in attempts well, and also contributed a goal. They each had good nights as well.

Oh, and again, the Parise-Henrique-Kovalchuk combination saw tough defenders by way of Viktor Hedman and Brett Clark and still succeeded for the most part. To think, even just a week ago, some fans wanted this line broken up. Now, they're clearly a threat to the opposition.

What Did I Say About Discipline: The New Jersey Devils really played with fire when it came to penalties when they took four straight in the second period. This was awful. Adam Larsson interfered with Tom Pyatt; Matt Taormina flung a puck over the glass in his own end during that first kill; Henrik Tallinder tripped Jones in the slot not long after the Taormina minor was killed; and Larsson hit Dana Tyrell too early to prevent him from going after the puck - another interference call. Four straight, all by defensemen, and it gave Tampa Bay more chances to come back against New Jersey. They rang up 10 of their 17 shots on net in the second period on those four chances. It speaks volumes to Hedberg's performance and the penalty killers' that they didn't score there. In fact, they out-scored them in the second thanks to Henrique finishing off a 2-on-0.

Did the Devils fully learn their lesson? Not fully. Urbom was beefing with Steve Downie at the crease during a play and Urbom cross-checked him down into Hedberg. Downie got up, dropped his gloves, and a fight was on. Urbom got an extra minor for the cross-check and that was the one that Tampa Bay eventually scored on. It was their lone power play shot but it came off of Stamkos' stick. With three straight games with PPGs allowed, is it time to start worrying about the PK? I would hope not. For Stamkos to score that goal, Tampa Bay got away with a huge hook on Taormina, Elias had to mis-fire on a clearing attempt, Moore had to get puck through Salvador's skates, and the puck had to land perfectly on Stamkos' stick. That's a lot to go right for the Lightning to score. I don't think they could do it again if they wanted to. I don't think the PK is in any danger of falling apart.

Still, the big concern I had with taking penalties was that it would limit the Devils' chances to attack more than anything else. That clearly happened, since the Devils only got 6 shots on net. It may not have been a huge deal since they scored 3 goals; but on another night, it would've undercut their chances to win the game. That has to improve in future games.

Ur-bombed: Urbom had a night to forget. He reached out instead of skating with Jones that led to his goal late in the first period. He got turned, beaten, and made to look like, well, a rookie who was called up from the minors. His struggles didn't end there. The Lightning made a point of it to pick on him. He was a team-worst -11 in Corsi; and he only played 9:32 at evens, the lowest of a defender. After his cross-checking minor and fighting major, his night was done and for good reason. I don't think Urbom is truly bad, just that he had a bad game tonight. I'm hopeful he'll bounce back in the next few games - assuming he gets in them now that Kurtis Foster is a Devil.

Another Short End of the Stick: Nick Palmieri played even less than Urbom and managed to have a negative impact on the game. He missed his coverage on Downie that led to Tampa Bay's first goal; he pulled a Lyle Odelein when he fired a loose puck into Hedberg's glove that I'm sure made the coaches' hearts skip a beat; and he ended up a -5 in Corsi while only playing 4:21 at even strength. He did have one shot on goal and he played a little bit on the power play in the third period; but that was inconsequential. His night can be best described in one word: yuck.

Let me put it another way: Eric Boulton received at least twice as much ice time tonight. One could argue with the chippy third period, having the hired fists out there in case there was a fourth fight this evening was probably warranted. The thing was, Boulton wasn't terrible either. A whole bunch of hits, only a -2 in Corsi in 9:30 of play, and he spelled some of the top forwards for a few shift. I wish Mattias Tedenby got some of that, but no matter. He could make it up tomorrow possibly in place of Palmieri.

Wait, Who Got Beat in Possession: The line of Petr Sykora, Patrik Elias, and David Clarkson struck early; and they set up some nice plays in spots during the game. I'm certain Elias wish he got more of the puck during that second power play as the second was dying down; and Clarkson probably wished he made more of his one opportunity to shoot a puck. On top of that, Elias did go 12-for-21 on faceoffs, which is great for him. The line had their moments.

However, they weren't very good overall. Guy Boucher mixed up the match-ups throughout, and he found success against this trio. Elias and Clarkson were a -9 in Corsi and Sykora was a -10. Yes, the Henrique line was the superior possession line, whereas the Elias line faltered. I know, it's bizarre given it's been the other way around for most of the last month. Would I keep this group together? I don't know, only 6 shots between them isn't really enough for my liking - even in a game where the Devils put 5 in the net. Let's see how they do against Florida and if they struggle, then perhaps it's time to switch back Dainius Zubrus (nice deflection, too bad it was his only shot on net and was a -9 in Corsi) to play with Sykora and Elias.

The Goalie Section: Hedberg had more successful moments. He absolutely denied Vincent Lecavalier right in front of the net on a power play; he stone-cold stopped Nate Thompson in the slot in the third period a few minutes after Stamkos' first goal; and he only had one horrid giveaway with the puck during a Devils power play - and it didn't lead to anything. Hedberg had a good night. He looked stupid on Jones' goal; but I didn't think he had a chance on the other three allowed. Downie shot through traffic and Stamkos was absolutely lethal (and with space) on both of his goals. It's normally not great for a goaltender to allow four goals, but given what the goals were and the important stops he did make, I actually liked how Hedberg performed tonight.

He was also a million times better than Roloson, who can be properly faulted on the first and third goals he allowed. He deserved to be pulled for the superior Mathieu Garon. At least Garon had little chance on the goals against him; he didn't flop out position. Even with Tampa Bay's struggles, I'd be surprised if he doesn't get the majority of starts until he falters or gets hurt or something.

This Is Our Ower Lay - Notice There's No P In It: I'm sort of torn about the power play tonight. Yes, they did convert one opportunity. Yes, they did not allow a shorthanded shot against, which is quite good given how prone the team has been to those situations. Usually, that's enough to make me pleased with it. Yet, I'm not fully satisfied with only 5 shots on net across 3 power plays. Given how the Lightning were down 3 in the third period, the Devils could have made better use of those 2 power plays to keep them honest and force Garon to make some saves. They had possession but really did little; and the three Garon did stop weren't all that dangerous. Overall, I shouldn't complain, but I felt at the time of the third period - and I still do a little bit - that the Devils were wasting it. It's one thing if it's in the final minutes of the game; but it's another when there's plenty of time remaining in the third.

Score Effects: A common refrain of Devils fans is that the team doesn't play a full 60 minutes. They're right. The Devils don't. Check this out: most teams in the league don't. Teams are often driven by score effects. Unless a team is fully demoralized or outclassed, they're going to fight back when they're down a few scores. It can be from getting yelled at by the coach at intermission; some words from the captain or teammates; or even from within. However it's done, it's common that teams realize that it's time to throw caution to the wind and attack more often. Even a poor possession team like Tampa Bay has had the better of possession when they're losing. It's not a case that the Devils just sit back; it's usually a case of the other team forcing the Devils to defend for a shift, clear out the puck, get fresh guys, and all while they don't have possession. The cycle repeats. It's worsened when the team hands the losing opposition power plays to get back into it; another reason why discipline is key. The Devils did score 3 in the second period, but the shot count showed the Lightning to be the more active team. They had to be to have a chance tonight.

I agree the Devils should have made more of an effort than just 2 even strength shots on net in the third period and more than 4 in the second period. Yet, consider the situation: the Lightning are at home, they've won exactly three games in their last ten going into this one, and they're starting to fade in the standings. That's a recipe for a desperate team and so they're went into a full-attack mode and the Devils were forced to adjust. I will say that there's something to the team being a bit too slow with their adjustments. I noticed that the Devils were unsettled from Stamkos' first goal to Thompson being robbed in the slot. Hedberg's save was huge because the Devils seemed to be a mess and a fourth Lightning goal seemed inevitable. Then, and I don't know if it was a realization by the players or DeBoer doing something or whatever, the Devils decided to dial down the aggression, play more in the neutral zone, and be a bit more patient. This kept the Lightning largely at bay until they went fully desperate and pulled the goalie late in the game.

I still struggle with the definition of a "60 minute effort;" but it seems clear to me that the score was the main driver as to how this game played out - not a choice. It's also a big reason, I think, why all of these games aren't easy.

Those are my thoughts on tonight's game, so now I want to know yours. How big is this regulation win? What Devil impressed you the most? What Devil impressed you the least? What do you want to see the Devils do when they have the lead? Can the Devils carry something from this win into Sunrise for tomorrow's game? If so, what is it? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who read & commented in the Gamethread; thanks to everyone who followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter; and thank you for reading.

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