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Captain Steven Stamkos and high-scoring Nikita Kucherov garner lots of attention. However Taven Bryan Jaguars Jersey , the Tampa Bay Lightning are hardly a two-man show.
The top seed in the Eastern Conference got early goals from four players – none of them named Stamkos or Kucherov – before holding off the New Jersey Devils for a 5-2 victory Thursday night in Game 1 of the first-round series.
Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde scored, helping the Lightning build a 3-0 lead that New Jersey trimmed to one goal before Alex Killorn and Kucherov, who added an empty-netter with 1:12 remaining, finished off the win before a crowd of 19,092.
”Not the outcome we wanted,” Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid said ”That’s why it’s a series and not a game.”
Taylor Hall scored an unassisted goal off a turnover in the second period, then assisted on Travis Zajac’s power-play goal that trimmed the Devils’ deficit to 3-2 midway through third against Andrei Vasilevskiy, who had 29 saves for Tampa Bay, which held off Boston in the final week of the season for the best record in the East.
For the Devils, a shaky opening period was too much to overcome.
”I don’t know what happened. That’s the way hockey goes sometimes. Starting on time is a big part of hockey, and especially playoff hockey,” Hall said. ”We have to be a team that’s ready to battle right off the bat and just be aware that they have more than one line; more than Stamkos and Kucherov. They have a lot of dangerous guys and we have to be aware.”
The line of Palat, Johnson and Brayden Point, matched up against New Jersey’s top line, produced a pair of first-period goals and finished with six points.
Killorn’s shot over Kincaid’s glove restored a two-goal lead before Kucherov, who led the Lightning with 100 points this season Michael Gallup Jersey Elite , ensured there would be no comeback.
”I thought we played really well. I thought we played within our structure,” said Johnson, who also had an assist on Palat’s goal. ”You’ve got to give Jersey credit. They pushed in that second period. That third period, I thought we took it back over. `If we continue to play like that, I like our chances this series.”
Game 2 is Saturday at Amalie Arena.
Tampa Bay beat the Devils for the first time this year. The Devils won all three meetings between the teams during the regular season, with each game decided by one goal.
Kinkaid entered his first career playoff game as one of the hottest goalies in the league, going 7-0-1 over his last eight starts to help New Jersey grab its first playoff berth since the Devils reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012.
The Lightning, on the other hand, have been driven all season by failing to make the playoffs last spring after making deep runs previous two years.
With Kucherov and Stamkos leading the way, Tampa Bay paced the NHL in scoring and Vasilevskiy set a franchise record and tied for the league lead with 44 victories in his first season as a No. 1 goaltender.
But after reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015 and coming within one victory of a return trip two years ago, this season ultimately will be judged on whether the Lightning can put together another strong bid to win it all.
”Last year was the first year that I missed the playoffs in any league. I’ve never had a long summer like that and that summer felt like forever,” said Johnson, who has 22 goals in 48 career playoff games.
”So I’m glad where we’re at right now. I’m excited to be back at this time,” Johnson added. ”It’s the best hockey. It’s the most fun you can play in.”
While the Devils did a nice job of containing the high-scoring Kucherov and Stamkos, Palat, Johnson, Killorn and Gourde Cheap Braden Smith Jersey , who set a Lightning rookie record with 25 goals this season, showed why it’s so difficult to totally shut down Tampa Bay’s offense.
The momentum shifted on New Jersey’s first power-play opportunity. Even though the Devils didn’t score, they got off five shots against Vasilevskiy, who weathered the barrage before Hall broke through after Palat turned the puck over in the Lightning zone.
”We looked a little bit tentative, a little bit unsure, but I thought we settled into the game, particularly in the second period,” Devils coach John Hynes said. ”I thought the second half of the game was a little more of how we wanted to play. We’ll regroup and we’ll be a better team Saturday.”
Notes: Stamkos returned to Tampa Bay’s lineup after missing the final three games of the regular season with a lower body injury. … It’s the third time the Devils and Lightning have met in the playoffs. New Jersey won both previous series, advancing in the 2003 Eastern Conference semifinals in five games and ending a 2007 quarterfinal matchup in six. … Zajac and captain Andy Greene are the only players remaining on New Jersey’s roster from the Devils’ 2012 postseason run.
When it comes to the playoffs, the Carolina Panthers have been there, done that.
The Panthers are unquestionably the most battle-tested team in the NFC playoffs with a roster consisting of players who have participated in 187 career postseason games. That’s quite a few more than the Atlanta Falcons (143), and more than double that of Carolina’s first-round opponent, the New Orleans Saints (90).
Philadelphia players have played in 74 playoff games and Minnesota’s 69, while the Los Angeles Rams are the least experienced NFC playoff team with 21.
Whether or not that experience pays off for the Panthers (11-5) remains to be seen. Carolina enters Sunday’s game at New Orleans having lost both previous regular season matchups to the Saints (11-5) by a combined 31 points.
But 37-year-old defensive end Julius Peppers believes Carolina’s experience can only help.
”We’ve had guys who have been there before, so I feel like we should be ready and more prepared,” Peppers said. ”I feel like guys have been around and know how to approach this thing. I think it will help us keep our poise a little bit too.”
The Panthers learned that the hard way in 2013.
They played host to the San Francisco 49ers in a divisional playoff game, but several players lost their cool – and their focus – on different occasions when calls didn’t go their way. It turned out to be a valuable lesson Lawrence Taylor Jersey Youth , as the Panthers lost the game.
”Guys were a little too excited, too rambunctious and got away from ourselves early in the game and we weren’t able to bounce back from that,” Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said.
Kuechly and the Panthers did a better job of managing that emotion in 2015, although there were a few hiccups in the Super Bowl loss to Denver.
”I think guys understand that emotions are going to run high in a playoff game and you have to understand that the most important thing is to play the game and not get wrapped up in the emotion of the game and get too excited and start making dumb plays,” Kuechly said.
Experience, he said, helps that.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said last week’s 22-10 loss felt a little like the 2013 playoff defeat to the 49ers. The Panthers had three key calls go against them in the first half against the Falcons and never recovered. They not only wound up losing the game, but a chance to capture the NFC South division title and host a playoff game.
”One of the things I said to the guys: `We got a little caught up in not being happy about some of the calls that weren’t made.’ I think we got a little distracted by that,” Rivera said. ”It was a little bit of a lesson (for younger players) and a little bit of refresher (for veterans), a reminder that, `This is playoff time. You can’t lose your focus. We’ve got to keep it on the game.”’
While the Panthers have never won a Super Bowl, this is their fourth trip to the playoffs in the last five seasons.
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said playoff experience does matter, not only on game day but also in the preparation leading up to it.
”If you haven’t played in one, it’s really hard to anticipate it,” Olsen said. ”That level of intensity keeps going up. It’s like when you first play in the preseason in the NFL and then all of sudden the regular season opener comes and it’s like, well, this is a little different. It’s kind of a similar transition to the playoffs. Every play Cole Beasley Jersey Womens , every move, every inch is so important. The margin for error is very small.”
Said Saints coach Sean Payton: ”I think playing in big games matter. The experience of doing that, a lot of these younger players kind of played in this BCS series, it is that same type of environment. … I think it can be a factor and yet I think the preparation and the attention to detail, those type of things are most significant.”
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is 3-3 in playoffs games.
He said just as much as experience, the playoffs after about having ”smart players, players that a conscientious of the situation at hand” is equally as important.
The Panthers certainly have that in players like Peppers, Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Charles Johnson and Mike Adams on defense, as well as Newton, Olsen, Ryan Kalil and Jonathan on offense.
NOTES: Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (back stiffness) and guard Trai Turner practiced for the second straight day, although Turner remains in the concussion protocol. But starting left tackle Matt Kalil did not practice because of an illness.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.
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