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Lightning picking up defense in first round against Devils

Penalty kill, Vasilevskiy push them to verge of Eastern series win

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- The Tampa Bay Lightning may have been the highest-scoring team in the regular season but they proved they can also play defensive when it matters most.

Tampa Bay defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-1 in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Prudential Center on Wednesday to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.

The Devils did not score after taking a 1-0 lead on a 5-on-3 power play 8:23 into the first period.

 

[RECAP: Lightning add to series lead in Game 4 win over Devils | Complete Lightning vs. Devils series coverage]

 

"The best teams have to [tighten up defensively]," Lightning forward J.T. Miller said. "You can score all you want, but if you don't defend, it makes it really hard for your goaltender and defense corps. I think tonight we all bought into that, and played a really good third period, especially when we were up on the road."

Tampa Bay can end the series at home in Game 5 on Saturday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2).

The Lightning trailed and had a goal disallowed following a challenge for offside before Miller and Nikita Kucherov scored in a span of 3:32 of the first period to give them a 2-1 lead.

Video: TBL@NJD, Gm4: Coburn checks Coleman into bench

"You have to score to win games, but we've been through the playoffs before and, in the end, you also have to keep the puck out of your net," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. "You can throw all those defensive cliches out there, but that's ultimately what has to happen because it's so tight-checking."

The Lightning led the NHL in goals (290) and road goals (145) during the regular season.

"Goals are at a premium (in the playoffs), and when you play defense and frustrate teams, don't give them chances, that's big," Cooper said. "Especially with some of the snipers we have, we'll take our chances."

The Lightning held Devils left wing Taylor Hall to a series-low one shot on goal in Game 4. He averaged 5.7 shots in the first three games and has two goals and four assists in the series.

"He's a world-class player and has had a tremendous year, so for us try to shut him down was a big focus and we did a good job," Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said. "Anton Stralman and Ryan McDonagh were working against him most of the night, but whoever was out there did the job. Now we have an opportunity to go home and make it count."

The Lightning penalty kill, which ranked 28th in the NHL during the regular season (76.1 percent), killed five of six power plays Wednesday and ranks fifth in the postseason at 83.3 percent (15 for 18).

"We really turned the penalty kill around; it was a little bit of a struggle in the regular season," Hedman said. "We made some adjustments and guys are buying in, blocking shots, and allowing [goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy] to see the puck. We're putting pressure up ice when we have the opportunity, and it was huge.

"It's all about dedication; you have to take pride in being on the PK, and guys showed that."

Vasilevskiy made 25 saves after Kyle Palmieri scored on New Jersey's third shot of the game.

Video: TBL@NJD, Gm4: Vasilevskiy extends pad to stone Maroon

Announced Wednesday as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy given to the goaltender voted best in the NHL, Vasilevskiy made four big saves following the goal, including a breakaway stop against Travis Zajac. Miller scored 30 seconds later to tie the game 1-1.

"[Vasilevskiy] was phenomenal; he's a Vezina candidate for a reason and it's unbelievable how hard he competes," Hedman said. "He wants to win every game, be a difference-maker, and he was again tonight. I'm really happy with the way he played, especially early on when they had some breakaways."

Vasilevskiy, who set Lightning records for wins (44), road wins (18), shutouts (eight), road shutouts (six) and saves (1,908) in 65 regular-season games, also stopped a breakaway by Patrick Maroon at 3:44 of the second period with the Lightning holding a 2-1 lead.

The 23-year-old has a 2.26 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in the series and has allowed six goals at even-strength. He has saved 26 of 29 shots on the Devils power play.

"Maybe we got to a point where we figured out all the things that didn't work (on the penalty kill) and now we figured out something that does," Cooper said. "Guys are buying into what we're doing, blocking shots and getting 200-foot clears.

"In the end, the goalie is the one making the saves, and the secret to a good penalty kill is your goalie, and Vasy has been there for us."

***

 

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