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Bolts vs Devils (Matchup Preview)
By Jake Ricker
The Tampa Bay Lightning will be taking on the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While the Devils dominated the Bolts in the regular season, we should be in for a great first round matchup. Let’s take an in-depth look at how these two teams stacked up.
The Bolts definitely have the advantage here as they have much more depth than the Devils. The Lightning have 5 20+ goal scorers where the Devils only had 3. The Bolts even have plenty of guys who can pitch in from the blue line such as Hedman and Sergachev. Point and Gourde are having breakout seasons and continue to shine as the young guns of this team. When looking at both teams lines the Devils have their talent stacked in the first two lines where the Bolts have guys that can and have gotten on huge hot streaks throughout the whole lineup. The Devils will be relying on Taylor Hall a lot as he is the main part of their offense along with Niko Hischier. If the Bolts can shut down these two guys the Devils will have a very hard time finding offense, which is especially an issue against a team like the Bolts.
Advantage: Lightning (Slight)
Now this one is a lot closer but I will give the slight edge to the Bolts. The reason simply being the big names on the blue line for the Bolts. The Bolts top 3 defenders can all be number 1 guys on most squads and top 6 can all easily be top 4 defenders. The Devils, on the other hand, don’t have as much talent on the back end. However, this is a big if. The Bolts D line has not played the best this year and at times really struggled against teams they shouldn’t have. If the Bolts defense continues to play this way then the Devils will have the edge but I don’t expect these big names to struggle, especially in the playoffs.
This is going to be a great goaltender matchup. While Vasy has the better statistical advantage, Kinkaid was steller against the Bolts and has played really well since taking over for an injured Cory Schneider. Kinkaid has the ability to be the next Matt Murray for the Devils if he plays like he did in the regular season but that could change quickly as he does not have any playoff experience. Vasy, on the other hand, has had a Vezina worthy season. Vasy’s play has sometimes been the sole reason the Bolts have won games and he has the ability to make jaw-dropping stops whenever he wants. Vasy had 8 shutouts on the season (tied for 1st) and a 9.19 SV% (11th in the NHL out of 35+ GP). So while Kinkaid has played better against the Bolts Vasy is the better overall goaltender in this one.
Louis Domingue played well for the Bolts after replacing the injured Peter Budaj. Domingue ended the season with a .894 SV% and a 3.41 GAA. And while Domingue got 7 wins with the Bolts, the Devils have 2 great options to go too. Backing up Kinkaid will be Eddie Lack and Cory Schneider, both who have number 1 potential. Lack ended the season with a .870 SV% and a 4.70 GAA and while that’s not the best stats he played really well against the Bolts stopping 48 shots. And even if you don’t think Lack is that much better than Domingue, the Devils also have Cory Schneider as the backup. Schneider who was the original starter until getting hurt had a .907% and a 2.93 GAA. While he has struggled since coming back from his injury, this is the playoffs and I would be surprised if he still had a difficult time. The bottom line is the Devils get the advantage as they have a number 1 goaltender as their backup.
The Bolts had the 3rd best PP in the NHL this year and have the ability to be the best with all of their firepower. It’s hard enough to cover both Stamkos and Kucherov on the same line but then throwing Miller and Hedman into the mix makes it almost impossible to stop when down a man. The Devils finished with the 10th best PP in the NHL and while they aren’t that much worse than the Bolt’s they’re not quite as good either. The Bolts have more firepower on both PP lines than the Devils do. So for smaller reasons that I gave the Bolts the advantage on offense, they get it here too.
The Bolts PK has been atrocious this year as they finished with the 28th worst PK in the NHL. While the PK has improved over the last few games, they still have a hard time getting the puck out of the zone. However these teams can tire the Bolts out and take advantage of big mistakes. The Bolts tend to turn over the puck a lot and with a man, down can lead to major issues. The Devils PK, on the other hand, has been stellar. The Devils finished the year with the 10th best PK in the NHL. with an 81.8% success rate, it is very rare the Devils have slipped up on the PK. The Devils also had 10 short-handed goals over the course of the season as a lot of their big names for the offense man the PK.
The Bolts get the advantage in this one. They have so much more depth than the Devils. If one of the Bolts players get on a hot streak things could get ugly quick. Vasy also can shut the Devils down by himself. The Bolts have the ability to outscore the Devils and on the days they can’t Vasy still gives the Bolts the big advantage. Unless Kinkaid, Schneider, or Lack can have another career best game, I just can’t see them getting far. Even though the Bolts have the advantage this doesn’t mean this series should be easier. As mentioned before if one the players gets hot, things could be over quick.