After a brief flirtation with the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Taylor Hall is back on the golf course as the New Jersey Devils have been eliminated from the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Five games is all it took for the Tampa Bay Lightning to defeat the Devils, who were back in the dance just one year after finishing dead last in the Eastern Conference. The team’s improvement is remarkable, to say the least; the Devils finished the season 10-4-2 to clinch the final playoff spot in the conference, and with Tampa Bay limping into the postseason with a 5-4-1 tally over their final ten games, New Jersey looked primed to upset the powerhouse Lightning.
However, it was not to be: while the Devils certainly didn’t have a poor series, it was clear from the onset that they just weren’t a match for Tampa Bay. As the NHL puts the Devils six feet under, let’s take a look at why they were eliminated from the 2018 edition of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Where Did It Go Wrong?
The Devils may be a team on the upswing, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be growing pains along the way. This series was a prime example of that; the inexperience of the young New Jersey squad was evident at times throughout the series, with many of the finer details of the game swinging in the Lightning’s favour. In fact, Tampa Bay was better in nearly every statistical category possible. Hits, faceoffs, turnovers, and both special teams percentages fell in the Lightning’s favour, much of which can be attributed to their veteran core. In fact, the Lightning more than doubled the Devils in terms of playoff games played among their rosters; while Tampa’s playoff squad had played a combined 1,152 playoff games, the Devils entire roster combined for less than 500.
Scoring was also an issue for the Devils. Throughout the five games, only Taylor Hall and Blake Coleman scored more than a single goal. That in itself is a skewed statistic, too; one of Coleman’s goals came courtesy of an empty net. To contrast that, the Lightning had three players score more than two goals, with Alex Killorn and goal machine Nikita Kucherov leading the way with four and five, respectively. A lot of the credit for that has to go to Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, as he averaged just over two goals per game through the first round to match a .941 save percentage. In his first postseason as a bonafide starter, Vasilevskiy shined and stifled the Devils both 5-on-5 and on the special teams. While the future is bright for the likes of Nico Hischier and WIll Butcher, they merely seemed overwhelmed by the Lightning – Hischier picked up a lone goal, and Butcher only had a single point at even strength throughout the series.
Overall, the Lightning was simply the better team at this point at the Devils; however, that could all change within a few years as New Jersey continues to develop their young core.
Is There a Heartbeat?
You bet, and it’s only getting stronger.
The biggest knock against this year’s edition of the New Jersey Devils was their inexperience; with six of the team’s seven top scorers having failed to play in the postseason in their NHL career, they were always in tough against a veteran Tampa Bay squad. It’s not a knock against the Devils, but they simply aren’t in the upper echelon of NHL franchises yet – but they should get there sooner rather than later. Each of their top seven scorers are under the age of 27, with the majority of their defensive core under the same age.
The future is bright in New Jersey, and while it’s disappointing to be eliminated this early, there’s nowhere to go but up.