The Devils Faced The Perfect Storm In Tampa Bay, And Skated Away With Their Tails Between Their Legs
Prior to the third period, I probably would have told you that the score at the time wasn't entirely indicative of the competitiveness of the game to that point. After the first 40 minutes, I may have argued that just about all the issues the Devils have largely gotten away with failing to correct, due in large part to both Keith Kinkaid and an excellent PK, got exposed by a better team playing within the friendly confines of their own building. That might seem like a stretch, considering their quick 2-0 lead got counterpunched with fistful of answered goals. However, between starting the second period in a mindless malaise (goal 3) and looking as though they were intentionally testing the depth of their own penalty kill by refusing to stay out of the box (goals 4 and 5), the Lightning were more opportunistic than they were discouragingly dominant.
Unfortunately, the third period happened, and from the first drop of the puck it looked like just about every player in the Devils' lineup was wishing it didn't have to. Credit to the top notch talent up and down Tampa's roster for capitalizing, but - as evidenced by the pass Damon Severson ripped so hard off Pavel Zacha's skate that you'd swear it was wearing a stick costume (goal 7) - New Jersey didn't even force them to approach the door before tossing away pucks like they were Halloween candy. Hell, they might as well have slapped a sign on their bench that said "Take One", because the bell was simply not something they were interested in answering throughout the final frame.
Unsurprisingly, one was not taken, as the same team that ended their season in unceremonious fashion put up three during a period for which the Devils appeared to prepare by going on a 'Trick or Tequila' run. Everyone, from Brian Boyle and Kevin Rooney (goal 6) to Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri (goal 8), was left falling all over themselves in a way that was all too fitting of what was essentially a 20 minute face-plant.
Every regulation loss counts for the same amount of points, whether you lose by two or you lose by five, so this could easily be seen as a "scrap the tape"-type wake-up call for a team that really shouldn't need it this early in the season. Hopefully it is in theory but not in execution, as there are a lot of persistent problem areas that were finally picked apart. Every season has its stinkers, but how the Devils respond to this particular one will say a lot about a team that has yet to prove capable of putting forth a winning effort on the road. Kind of important to make that statement a positive one as, even after this road trip, they won't be spending too much time at home this month. Though, I guess the good news is that their next appearance can't possibly be more negative than one in which they looked like they forgot how to hockey during the final intermission.