Preview: Lightning look to avenge early season loss to Devils

BY The Sports Xchange • February 17, 2018

TV: FOX Sports Sun

TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.


TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Lightning lean on their top players and the New Jersey Devils continue to see their top rookie become a key contributor late in the season when the teams meet Saturday at Amalie Arena.

The league-leading Lightning enter the game with three consecutive home wins after beating division rival Detroit on Thursday behind the strong play of the big three -- Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman.

Kucherov tied a career high with four points and three assists, Stamkos scored twice and Hedman added three assists as the trio combined for nine points in a 4-1 victory.

A team already deep with offensive talent, Tampa Bay is tough to beat when its top players are contributing.

And if one of the Big Three should falter or have an off game, Yanni Gourde, Vladislav Namestnikov, Tyler Johnson and Victor Hedman are more than capable of picking up the offensive burden for the Lightning.

"You want to step up every game, but there are certain times during the season where your top players rise to the occasion," Stamkos said. Thursday "was a good example of that with Kuch and Heddy playing well. And usually when the three of us can get on the scoresheet in some way, it's probably going to end up being good for our team."

That effort was a big part of an otherwise solid effort for a Tampa Bay team that had allowed three or more goals in 12 of the previous 17 games.

"They played well, they were working, they were defending and doing the things we asked," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

The Devils, meanwhile, are in the thick of the playoff race in the Metro Division thanks to Taylor Hall, who is garnering some Hart Trophy talk. But New Jersey is also getting a boost from rookie Nico Hischier, the top overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.

Hischier picked up a goal and three points in Thursday's divisional victory over Carolina. As the importance of the games have picked up, so has Hischier's game.

"I like to play in the big games," Hischier told "I just like to play in those situations; that's when I'm having the most fun."

Seeing a rookie rise to the occasion gives plenty of insight into the player.

"(Hischier's) a gamer and that's what separates some players," Devils coach John Hynes told "There's a lot of talented players in the league, but there's other guys that when the pressure gets turned up, the game becomes more intense or you need guys to step up and make plays; they can do it. Nico has done that for us."

The Devils will be without forward Joel Quenneville, who was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Feb. 10 and did not travel with the team to Florida. Former Lightning forward Brian Boyle, who missed Thursday's game, did make the trip.

Tampa Bay center Brayden Point missed practice on Friday for what the team called "body maintenance." Point missed Thursday's morning skate as well but was in the lineup against Detroit.


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