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The New Jersey Devils proved in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series with the heavily favored Tampa Bay Lightning that they are not a team simply content with reaching the postseason.
After climbing back into this best-of-seven Monday with a gritty 5-2 victory over the Lightning
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, the Devils are talking tough, even though they still trail the series 2-1.
“We showed it’s going to be a series,” said Devils forward Blake Coleman. “It’s going to be a dogfight.”
Such sets the stage for what should be an intriguing Game 4 at the Prudential Center on Wednesday night.
The Lightning won the first two games of this series in Tampa, 5-2 and 5-3, and twice led Game 3 by the scores of 1-0 and 2-1 early in the third period. However, the Devils unloaded 20 shots in the final period, took advantage of an uncharacteristically undisciplined Lightning squad, and scored four times — twice into an empty net — to secure the organization’s first playoff victory in six years.
“We did it to ourselves,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper.
That feeling is the prevailing sentiment around the Lightning heading into Game 4. Lightning players and coaches firmly believe that, as the Eastern Conference’s top seed and far more experienced team in the series, what happens on the ice is largely on them, not the Devils.
“It’s not one game
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, it’s a series,” said Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who logged more than 28 minutes in the Game 3 defeat. “We’re still on top and got to refocus and regroup to get ready for the next one.”
Special teams have been a big part of this series, so far. The Lightning handed the Devils seven power plays Monday, and the Devils tied the game in the third period on a Will Butcher 5-on-3 power play goal. On the flip side, the Lightning also scored two more power play goals, giving them five in nine opportunities in the series.
“They have such a lethal power play that if you give them one, two, three, four, five opportunities a night, they’re going to make you pay
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,” said Devils alternate captain Taylor Hall. “On the other side, our power play didn’t really come through when we wanted it to — though we got the one on the 5-on-3 that got us back in the game — but we have to regroup and figure out what we have to do against their penalty kill.”
Hall, coming off a Hart Trophy-worthy regular season, turned in a brilliant performance Monday and has five points in the first three games of the series. He tied the game with his second goal of the series in the second period, then assisted on Butcher’s game-tying tally and made a gorgeous rush up ice before setting up Stefan Noesen’s eventual game-winner at 12:55 of the third period.
“He’s so consistent, does it every night,” teammate Marcus Johansson said of Hall, who had a career-high 93 points in 2017-18. “He scores big goals, creates a lot of offense for him and his linemates. I’m really impressed with the way he’s been playing all year.”
After shaky goaltending from Keith Kinkaid in the first two games of the series, the Devils switched to Cory Schneider in Game 3 and he stopped 34 of 36 shots, making a stunning save on a Ryan McDonagh breakaway with the score tied in the third period.
“Me and (Brian Boyle) looked at each other halfway through the game and said this is the Cory we know,” shared Coleman
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, who scored one of two empty-net goals for New Jersey near the end of the game.
Despite the rousing finish and gutty effort by the home team, the Lightning are still up a game and in the driver’s seat heading into Game 4. A win Thursday and they head back to Florida one victory away from advancing to the second round.
Considering they did not trail for a single second over the first 172 minutes, 55 seconds of the series, the Lightning have plenty of reason to be confident ahead of Wednesday’s much-anticipated clash.
“We still feel like we’re in a good spot in the series,” said McDonagh. “If we keep ourselves within our system and playing the right way, we feel we’ve got a good chance.”
The Lightning could be without two of their top forwards on Wednesday, however. Ryan Callahan, who missed Game 3 with an upper-body injury, did not practice Tuesday and neither did Tyler Johnson, who scored goals in each of the first two games down in Tampa, but needed a maintenance day Tuesday for unspecified reasons.
LOS ANGELES — A bunched up Western Conference has the New Orleans Pelicans knowing there is plenty to play for with two games remaining in the regular season.
With a victory Monday at Los Angeles against the Clippers, the Pelicans would move one win away from clinching at least the No. 5 seed in the conference. They could even move up to No. 4 with a little help from opponents playing the Utah Jazz
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, who are currently in fourth place.
But the jammed pack conference also means a backward slide could take a heavy toll. The Pelicans were officially fifth in the conference before Sunday’s games, with teams in fifth, sixth (Spurs), and seventh (Thunder) all possessing 46-34 records.
Denver was in ninth place in the conference, just outside a playoff spot, but was just one game behind the Pelicans in the standings.
If anything, the Pelicans are soaring into Los Angeles behind their hard-earned victory at Golden State on Saturday.
“Knowing this was like a playoff game and a playoff atmosphere, knowing where we are in the playoff race and knowing we haven’t won (at Golden State) in a while, (it) was a big confidence booster,” Pelicans forward Anthony Davis said, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “We knew we’d probably have to win four games of the last five to make sure we solidify a spot in the playoffs.”
It remains to be seen what type of Clippers team the Pelicans will run into. Monday’s matchup had been shaping up to be a big one between Western Conference playoff contenders, but a recent Clippers slide officially eliminated them from their seventh consecutive playoff appearance.
The Clippers (42-38) could be a team intent on showing they still have something to prove
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, even if the playoffs are out of the question, or they could exhale knowing their late-season chase has ended.
The Clippers might have lost four of their last five games, but after considering what he might do with the season winding down, coach Doc Rivers suggested that his team will not treat the Pelicans with indifference.
“We have two games left and I don’t even know how I’m going to approach those games,” Rivers told the assembled media after Saturday’s loss to the Nuggets. “I may play all the starters, I may play all the young guys and just let them get minutes.
“I think I have to play the guys against New Orleans, honestly. I think we really have to go after that game. I just believe in protecting the league. That’s what we should do, and I hope we do that.”
The Clippers will conclude the season with four point guards on injured reserve: Patrick Beverley (knee), Avery Bradley (groin), Milos Teodosic (foot) and Jawun Evans (abdomen). Even leading scorer Lou Williams is ailing with an ankle injury and was listed as day-to-day. Forward Danilo Gallinari is also day-to-day with a hand injury.
The Pelicans have made their playoff push despite losing DaMarcus Cousins (Achilles) for the season. Guard Ian Clark is dealing with an ankle injury.
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