Tampa Bay Lightning at New Jersey Devils game preview

BY foxsports • October 29, 2016

Less than 24 hours after allowing a late lead to slip away before losing in overtime, the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night will face a stiff test at Prudential Center from one of the NHL's top teams.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, who have won five of seven to start the season and enjoyed a day off Friday while the Devils were losing to the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2, erased a 2-0 deficit in their first meeting with the Devils on Oct. 15 and earned a 3-2 regulation win.

The Lightning have one thing working against them heading into this matchup -- right winger Nikita Kucherov is listed as day-to-day after suffering an injury in a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. It was feared the injury could be serious, so even if he misses Friday's game against New Jersey, it still feels like the Lightning dodged a bullet.

"It's never fun to see guys not finishing games," defenseman Victor Hedman said to the Tampa Bay Times. "We'll see what the status is. Guys have an opportunity to step up and play more minutes. We've been through this before. That's what we've been known for the last few years, guys step up when other guys do down."

The Lightning reached the Eastern Conference Finals last season without Stamkos for all but Game 7 of that series. They are one of the deepest teams in the league and can certainly survive a game or two without Kucherov, who has averaged nearly 30 goals per season over the past two seasons.

The Lightning also have a wealth of goaltenders with Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy in net.

Bishop was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season and Vasilevskiy played well in his absence when he got hurt during the past two postseasons. Bishop played in Montreal on Thursday despite having his teeth knocked out in the previous game, so either goalie could get the nod against the Devils.

"In the time I've been here, I don't think I've ever sat here and said, 'This goalie is playing this way' and I decide not to play him," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said to the Tampa Bay Times. "Over time the last couple years with Vasy, we've tried to slowly put him in. We're trying to get him minimum one game a week."

The Devils have a workhorse No. 1 goaltender in Cory Schneider who will be between the pipes after getting a night off for the first time this season against the Blackhawks. Schneider is off to another stellar start with a 2.00 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in six starts.

The problem for the Devils continues to be scoring; in seven games, they've only cracked the two-goal mark once.

Against the Blackhawks, two goals appeared to be enough before right winger Marian Hossa scored late to force overtime and center Artem Anisimov won it.

Devils coach John Hynes was upset with his team's decision making in the third period and overtime, something he wants fixed before the Lightning take the ice Saturday.

"We have to move past this one," Hynes said. "We have to extract (the lesson). That's really what I said tonight. The beauty of playing back to back is you have an opportunity to redeem yourself. We'll take the lessons from this game and make sure we come out with a competitive effort like we did tonight and we got to get that smart part of our game in key situations to match our level of compete."

"It's a long season, and I think we're going to get better at protecting leads and playing with leads," Devils left winger Taylor Hall said to NJ.com. "It's not something that I'm worried about. We can get a little more comfortable in those situations."


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