Newark, NJ—In tomorrow’s skate around, Devils head coach Lindy Ruff will emphasize closing out games. The Devils looked good for 35 minutes and fell apart the last 20 minutes of the third period.
Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored in a three minutes span of the third, the Tampa Bay Lightning came back from an early two-goal deficit to beat the New Jersey Devils 6-3 on Tuesday night at the Rock.
“We were not ready,” Bellemare said of the slow start. “I think, even though despite the fact that we talked nothing about the break, we were way too slow. And unfortunately, we had to get a kick in the butt and finally we woke up, so I would put that in the unacceptable category.”
Dawson Mercer got the party started with the first New Jersey goal, it was Hughes that made the play. He checked defenseman Erik Cernak as he was handling the puck near their net and the force of the check bounced the puck off the stick and found its way between the pipes. Mercer recorded his 11th goal of the season.
Phil Hughes extended the lead to 3-1 less than two minutes into the second period when he backhanded his own rebound into the net after Vasilevskiy stopped his one-on-one attempt. The Devils was rolling and skating with confidence.
Lightning’s coach Jon Cooper decided to change some lines and that was the difference in the game.
Trailing 3-1 with less than five minutes left in the second period, the Lighting hit the reset button. Stamkos got the Lightning to a goal with a shot from the top of the circles. Alex Killorn tied the game. Pat Maroon also scored for the Lightning, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 22 saves as Tampa Bay improved to 8-2-1 in its last 11.
“We’ve been a team that has done pretty well this year, and there’s definitely chemistry in the lines and then when you see your coach change the lines it’s maybe a little bit of a wake-up call,” Killorn said. “As we saw tonight, we scored pretty quickly once those lines got changed, so it was nice. I don’t know they might say the same.”
Mercer was a bright spot for the Devils, registering a goal and two assists, which has lost nine of 11. Jack Hughes and Yegor Sharangovich added a goal and an assist. Jon Gillies made 24 saves before being pulled after the sixth goal.
Devils forward Tomas Tatar felt the Devils outplayed Tampa for the first 35 minutes, and then the quick goals took the fight out of them for the third period.
“It was an open game,” Tatar said. “But I felt like we just kind of gave up once they tied the game and we were not playing the same way as we did in the first half of the game.”
New Jersey defenseman Damon Severson said Lightning were the better team in the final 25 minutes.
“They’re back-to-back Stanley Cup championship winning teams,” Severson said. “They were going to be a lot better than they were to start the game and we just, I don’t know what happened there in the last 20 minutes. We were fully in our control game, 3-1, and just let it go.”
NOTES: Killorn’s goal was his 162nd, moving him past Tyler Johnson for fifth in Tampa Bay Lightning history. Devils center Nico Hischier had his four-game goal scoring streak snapped. It was tied for the longest of his career. Perry is still looking for his 400th career goal.