Looking at the raw numbers, the New Jersey Devils powerplay looks like mediocre. The Devils entered tonight’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning 19th in the NHL, converting on just under 16 percent of its powerplay opportunities.
When they needed it most, New Jersey’s powerplay came through. The Devils scored two 5-on-3 power-play goals in the third period in a 4-2 win over the Lighting at the Prudential Center.
Patrik Elias finished led New Jersey with three points (1g, 2a). Ilya Kovalchuk and Andy Greene both added a goal and an assist.
The win was New Jersey’s third straight, and kept them within one point of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Atlantic Division lead.
New Jersey began the third period holding on to a 2-1 lead, an uncomfortably close margin against the league’s top scoring team. Tampa Bay had outscored opponents, 18-8, in the final period of games this season.
It only took 19 seconds for the Devils to break open the game.
The Lightning began a march to the penalty box, starting with Martin St. Louis heading off for tripping at 13:29 of the third period. He was joined just 18 seconds by Ryan Malone, who received a two-minute penalty for high-sticking Travis Zajac. Already in a 5-on-3 situation, Lightning coach Guy Boucher earned his team another penalty just one second after Malone went to the box. Boucher received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, putting three men in the box and giving New Jersey an extended 5-on-3 power play.
The Devils wouldn’t miss, scoring 1:15 into the first 5-on-3 power play. Elias held the puck near the goal line, sending a pass to David Clarkson in the slot. The right wing tipped it back to Greene, who put his shot through the legs of Anders Lindback to extend the lead to 3-1.
“We were just trying to make sure we get into our spots, make sure we’re in the best position possible,” Greene said, “We rolled around, and Patty made a great pass to me in the slot. Had a lot of traffic going on in the front and I just put it in.”
Greene, who didn’t start the season on the powerplay, picked up his second powerplay point in as many games.
“I think he’s playing the best hockey, at least in my time here with him,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said of Greene. “He’s playing with confidence, playing in all situations. He’s moving his feet. He’s an easy guy to play right now.”
Elias put the game out of reach, scoring another 5-on-3 power-play goal just 14 seconds later. Kovalchuk sent a pass to Elias below the right circle, and the Devils left wing held the puck. He waited until Lindback dropped his glove, then banked a shot off the Lightning goalie and in to put New Jersey ahead, 4-1.
The Devils finished 2-for-4 on the powerplay, an encouraging sign for DeBoer.
“[It showed] how important special teams are both ways, especially early in the year,” he said. “Ours have been good, and I think they’re getting better.”
Adam Henrique opened the scoring at the 3:28 mark of the second period. Lindback bobbled the puck on a point shot from Anton Volchenkov, letting it fall out of his glove. Henrique beat Brendan Mikkelson to the puck, chipping it into the open net for his third goal of the season.
“I just tried to get out of the way,” he said about the goal. “I didn’t know if he [Lindback] didn’t see it until the last second or mishandle it, but I just saw it jump out and I just poked it. I was hoping it was going to the left and not the right.”
Nate Thompson tied the score later in the period, capitalizing on a Stephen Gionta turnover. The Devils center couldn’t handle a pass from Martin Brodeur, losing the puck to St. Louis in the right circle. The Lightning’s assistant captain found Thompson in the slot, who beat Brodeur stick side for his second of the season.
Kovalchuk restored New Jersey’s lead, scoring a shorthanded goal to push the Devils ahead, 2-1. He intercepted a Sami Salo pass from the point, skating into the Lightning zone on a 2-on-1 with Zajac. Kovalchuk held the puck, firing a low shot to the far corner for his third goal of the season.
That score snapped a seven-game goal drought for the Devils assistant captain. It was his first goal since scoring the game-winning overtime goal against the Washington Capitals on January 25.
Lindback finished with 25 saves, taking his second straight loss.
Matt Carle made it close, cutting the deficit to 4-2 with 2:15 remaining after putting a shot past Brodeur from the right circle. New Jersey bottled the Lightning to close the game, equaling a season-low with only 19 shots allowed. They held the league’s top scoring team to just two goals, the third straight game the Lightning have failed to score more than twice.
Brodeur finished with 17 saves on 19 shots.
The Devils continued its strong play shorthanded, holding Tampa Bay scoreless on four powerplay opportunities. New Jersey led the league last season with 15 shorthanded goals and a penalty kill that converted close to 90 percent of its opportunities. They’re picking right up where they left off.
“Dave Barr does an exceptional job coaching the units,” DeBoer said. “We coach aggressiveness, and those guys are getting rewarded for being aggressive.”
New Jersey has won three straight games, holding opponents to three total goals. With six games played in just 10 days, DeBoer was hard pressed to find a specific line or player to praise.
“It was a 20-man contribution tonight,” DeBoer said. “That was a tough game to play against a very good team, and we buckled down.”
Clarkson ended the game with stitches over his right eye. The right wing was cut by Stamkos in the first period, but called it a “fluke play.”
Elias recorded three points in his second straight game. The left wing leads New Jersey with 10 assists this season.
Both Henrique and Clarkson extended their point-scoring streaks to three games.
With an assist tonight, Volchenkov is now four assists away from 100.