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Lightning led by Kucherov, defense in first round against Devils

Forward's play, strong penalty kill help Tampa Bay advance in playoffs

by Corey Long / Correspondent

The Tampa Bay Lightning have advanced to the Eastern Conference Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in the past four seasons.

The Lightning, who scored 18 goals in their first-round series against the New Jersey Devils, advanced with a 3-1 win in Game 5 at Amalie Arena on Saturday.

Tampa Bay awaits the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, which the Bruins lead 3-2.

Here are 5 reasons the Lightning advanced to the second round:


[RELATED: Complete Lightning vs. Devils series coverage]


1. Kucherov playing big 

Forward Nikita Kucherov scored at least one goal in four of the five games and finished the series with 10 points (five goals, five assists), a Lightning record in a playoff series.

Kucherov scored the game-winning goals in Games 2, 4 and 5 and matched the Devils physicality as the series went on.

"He is phenomenal," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "He is a game breaker and he can change the game for you. Beyond his point production is his play all over the ice. He's responsible defensively. He's getting pucks deep when he has to, but he can make those [offensive] plays. Kucherov and [Steven] Stamkos obviously have a great line and they score big goals but at the same time they play great defensively."

Video: TBL@NJD, Gm4: Kucherov nets sweet goal in tight


2. Vasilevskiy steps up 

Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy tied for the NHL-lead with 44 wins this season, but was entering his first postseason as the Lightning's No. 1 option.

Vasilevskiy had a 2.01 goals-against average and .941 save percentage against New Jersey, and only allowed two goals while making 53 saves in Games 4 and 5.

"He's been unbelievable," Kucherov said. "He's still young, but it seems like he's been in the League for 20 years. The patience he has and when he makes those saves, it just brings so much energy to the bench and gets everybody fired up."

Video: TBL@NJD, Gm4: Vasilevskiy stands tall to deny Zajac


3. Slowing down Hall, Hischier 

Devils forward Taylor Hall had five points (two goals, three assists) in the first three games of the series, but was held to one assist and four shots on goal in the final two games. Tampa Bay matched forward Brayden Point against Hall for much of the series.

Forward Nico Hischier, who was second on the Devils with 52 points this season, had just one goal in the series. 


4. Strong special teams

The Lightning's penalty kill, which ranked 28th in the League in the regular season (76.1 percent), held the Devils to 3-for-19 on the power play with two of the goals coming on 5-on-3s. 

"I think we settled our PK down," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "We were having our guys make too many reads in the zone. We tried to settle everything we did. It was not going to be a trial and error, we were going to dedicate our penalty kill to a group of players including [Anthony] Cirelli, [Alex] Killorn, [Ryan] Callahan and [Cedric] Paquette.


5. Rookies rolling 

Forward Yanni Gourde scored the game-winning goal in Game 1 and helped defensively to slow down Hall and Hischier while defenseman Mikhail Sergachev scored his first NHL playoff goal in Game 5.

"I think Sergachev handled himself very well in this series," Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. "He matured a lot over the course of the season, and to see him out there in the playoffs when everything is happening so fast and the pace is unbelievable, he did a great job."

Video: NJD@TBL, Gm5: Sergachev nets his first playoff goal



Complete Coverage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Predators vs. Avalanche

Jets vs. Wild

Golden Knights vs. Kings

Ducks vs. Sharks

Lightning vs. Devils

Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Capitals vs. Blue Jackets

Penguins vs. Flyers

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