NHL Hockey

Lightning, Devils begin stretch that will feed familiarity

The New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning will get to know each other pretty well this week.

In the first of three meetings spanning a six-day stretch, the Devils on Tuesday night will try for a fourth consecutive victory while looking to hand the Lightning their season-high fourth straight road defeat in the game in Newark, N.J.

In an interesting scheduling quirk, New Jersey and Tampa Bay have yet to meet this season. On top of that, all three of their 2022-23 matchups will take place between Tuesday and Sunday of this week. The teams will play again Thursday in New Jersey, then Sunday at Tampa.

The Devils are tied with Carolina atop the Metropolitan Division at 94 points. They've also scored at least three goals in nine straight games and have outscored their opponents 9-3 during a three-game winning streak.

New Jersey most recently made the playoffs in 2017-18, when it lost in five games to Tampa Bay, and has not won a postseason series since 2012.

"We've worked extremely hard for this," Jesper Bratt, who increased his goal tally to 27 with two during Sunday's 3-0 home victory over the Hurricanes, told the Devils' official website.

"It has been a lot of years, a lot of hard, tough years, and that brings us a lot of motivation that we want even more."

Fellow Devils star Jack Hughes, with a career-high and team-leading 79 points, had a goal and two assists Sunday to snap a three-game point drought. He has two goals and two assists in four career games against the Lightning, who are third in the Atlantic Division but are in a 2-5-2 stretch.

In addition to trying to end their latest road slide, Tampa Bay is attempting to rebound from Sunday's 3-2 loss to Winnipeg that capped a 2-1-1 homestand.

"We definitely thought we should have gotten points (against Winnipeg), and we didn't," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Now we've just got to go on the road and get some."

Though Tampa Bay fell short Sunday, they did have star Steven Stamkos on the ice after he suffered a leg injury during Saturday's 3-1 victory over Chicago. However, it's uncertain if teammate Anthony Cirelli, who had a goal with an assist against the Jets, will be available after he took a hit to the head on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's Alex Killorn has five goals and two assists during his last six games.

Since a brilliant 45-save performance during Tampa Bay's most recent road win, 3-0 at Detroit on Feb. 25, Andrei Vasilevskiy has a 3.86 goals-against average during 1-3-2 starting stretch. Meanwhile, backup Brian Elliott has allowed 12 goals in losing his last two road starts.

After yielding 14 goals in his previous three starts, New Jersey's Vitek Vanecek stopped all 32 shots faced vs. Carolina for his third shutout of the season.

While Mackenzie Blackwood soon could return from a lower-body injury that's kept him out since Feb. 19, Akira Schmid remains a serviceable backup and has a 1.44 goals-against average in his last four starts.

--Field Level Media

Updated March 13, 2023

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