Lightning rolling, Devils hurting before break begins
Posted on: 27 Jan, 2024 at 01:14 AM
Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
With a final game remaining before the All-Star break, the New Jersey Devils and host Tampa Bay Lightning may have different outlooks about the extended layoff after Saturday night's tilt.
After overcoming November's 6-7-2 mark that had them plummeting in the Eastern Conference standings, the Lightning probably would rather keep on playing hockey.
In Thursday night's 6-3 thrashing of the visiting Arizona Coyotes, Nikita Kucherov notched a three-point game (goal, two assists), while Steven Stamkos reached and passed the 1,100-point plateau with a power-play goal and an assist.
That, along with fellow first-liner Brayden Point's goal and helper, lifted the Lightning to their sixth straight home win and a 7-1-0 mark in the past eight outings.
"We just wanted to get some more traffic in front -- I thought the first goal was a perfect example (because) he didn't see it," said Stamkos, who produced his 14th 20-goal campaign with his game-winning tally. "We get some momentum from there. We certainly shot the puck a lot tonight and got rewarded."
On the club's fifth score, undrafted Mitchell Chaffee, a former All-American at Massachusetts, potted his first career goal.
First-year defensemen Maxwell Crozier and Emil Martinsen Lilleberg registered assists on Chaffee's tally.
"The youthful energy that's been brought into this room in the past few weeks has been great, and not for just the way they've played on the ice," said Stamkos, who turns 34 in less than two weeks. "They've done an amazing job on the ice, but just that anxiousness and nervousness and that energy (is great)."
Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who has missed the past 16 games with a lower-body injury, practiced on Friday.
The Devils likely will relish some time off to get healthy for a second-half push.
Before Thursday's 3-2 loss at the Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey placed star center Jack Hughes on injured reserve retroactive to Jan. 5.
Defenseman Dougie Hamilton (pectoral) was put on long-term injured reserve and will likely miss another month.
With New Jersey coach Lindy Ruff remaining in the dressing room during the third period after taking a puck to the head before second intermission, associate coach Travis Green took over bench duties.
Goaltender Nico Daws was ineffective and surrendered three goals on 12 shots in the first 23:12 before being replaced by Vitek Vanecek, who stopped 11 Carolina shots.
"Part of it is changes the look," Green said of Ruff removing Daws. "It gets the guys thinking a little bit. ... Sometimes you do it to change momentum."
Called up from AHL affiliate Utica, center Justin Dowling drew in for his first game with the Devils and scored their initial tally.
Jesper Bratt added another with three seconds remaining, but New Jersey fell to 3-5-1 in the past nine games.
The club sits four points behind the Detroit Red Wings, who hold the No. 2 wild-card spot.
"We were right there until the end," said Dowling, who was in while Michael McLeod (personal) is out. "Tough to come up one short."
In their first meeting with New Jersey, also at home, the Lightning won 4-3 in overtime on Jan. 11.
--Field Level Media