The Tampa Bay Lightning have won their first division title since the 2003-04 season when they won the Stanley Cup. Tampa will be looking to have that same success this season, but first, they will have to defeat a New Jersey team that is on the rise.
New Jersey finished last season with 70 points and the number one pick in the NHL draft, but this season the team has looked like a top tier team all season long, and now they find themselves in the postseason for the first time since the 2011-12 season. The Devils are going to have to play some of their best hockey if they want to beat a very deep Tampa Bay Lightning squad.
Nikita Kucherov Taking Over
Nikita Kucherov had a spectacular season for the Lightning, and he will be looking to keep it going for them in the postseason. 100 points this season was a career high for Kucherov, and now he will have his first chance at the playoffs since 2016.
Kucherov has appeared in 45 different playoff games in his career. In those games, he has found some success and has a career total of 42 points off of 22 goals and 20 assists. When he has been on the ice, the Lightning have been very productive, and it shows in his career playoff plus/minus of +20.
Nikita appeared in 12 games against the Devils in his entire career, and he has had some success against them. Kucherov has 14 career points against New Jersey including a two-point performance earlier this season.
The Lightning have a solid scoring presence, but Nikita Kucherov will have to play at a high level if the Lightning are going to make a run this postseason. The Eastern Conference is loaded with talent, and Tampa Bay has shown signs of weakness this last month.
From Zero To Hero Taylor Hall
For the New Jersey Devils, the play of Taylor Hall has had a massive impact on their push to the playoffs. Hall went on an incredible point streak in the middle of the season that ultimately ended at a remarkable 26 games.
Hall’s play since the new year began has been extraordinary. Taylor finished the season with 57 points in just 40 games; ranking him third behind only Connor McDavid and Evgeni Malkin. Hall had a great run to end the season, but his play this postseason will be the ultimate deciding factor in how successful this season is.
Head To Head
New Jersey has the season series on their side. In three meetings against the Lightning, this season the Devils have won all three of them. Two of the three games were played in New Jersey, and one of the games did end in a shutout.
The Lightning had the highest scoring offense in the 2017-18 season, and their defense plays very well as a team. The Devils do not have the stats to back them, but they have played up to their competition a lot of the time this season. New Jersey is sure to bring their best effort against a very good Tampa squad.
The playoffs are obviously a different beast than the regular season, but the Devils do have favorable matchups with the Lightning, and it could lead to this series being one of the most interesting of the first round.
This series, like many others, is going to be a very entertaining one to watch. I do like the matchups the Devils have over the Lightning. New Jersey has the strength and has proven they can hang with the Lightning on three different occasions this season.
I believe this series will need all seven games to be decided with game seven being determined by a coin flip, but I think that the Devils will come through in the end and upset the number one seeded Tampa Bay Lightning.