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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Lightning-Devils: How Tampa Bay worked its way to a 3-1 series lead

Times columnist Tom Jones gives his thoughts while watching the broadcast of Game 4 of the series between the Lightning and Devils:

Hard work beats everything

We watch the Lightning all season long and marvel at its skill. Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman. On and on we can go and talk about just how wildly talented the Lightning is.

But know what won Wednesday night's Game 4? Hard work.

The Lightning won 3-1 in Game 4 and now lead this series 3-1 because it simply out-worked the Devils. The Lightning won with heart and desire and sweat and determination. And, you know, that's what ultimately is the difference at this time of year.

Yes, you need skill and, occasionally, someone has to carry the team on his back with a ridiculous individual performance that relies more on talent than elbow grease. But if a team is going to go deep in the playoffs, they must, first and foremost, outwork their opponent.

That's what Tampa Bay did in Game 4, especially in the final five minutes.

The Lightning put on a clinic in final minutes in how to preserve a one-goal lead. It wasn't careless, but it didn't sit back either. It was an example of a team that knew the game plan and how to protect it.

Well coached and well deserved equal a well-deserved victory.

Vasy for Vezina

Not surprising to see Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy named one of the finalists for the Vezina Trophy, the league's award for top goalie. My guess is Predators goalie Pekka Rinne is going to win, but still a great achievement for Vasilevskiy to make the final three.

And the thing that should stand out about that is it looks like the Lightning — and specifically general manager Steve Yzerman — made the right call in trading Ben Bishop to make room for Vasilevskiy. Bishop is the best goalie in franchise history and still very effective with many more years left in him. But Vasilevskiy has proven to be everything the Lightning thought he would be. The Lightning, however, didn't know that for sure when they dealt Bishop last season and turned the No. 1 job over to Vasilevskiy.

It's only one full season for Vasilevskiy as a No. 1 goalie, but so far, so good.

And as far as the playoffs, Vasilevskiy has been outstanding in this series and seems to have shaken off his late-season doldrums. Another outstanding performance in Game 4 is another reason why the Lightning should start gathering more confidence about this postseason.

Suspension? Absolutely not

There was plenty of buzz Wednesday night about the hit Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov put on New Jersey's Sami Vatanan in the first period. It was very similar to a hit dished out by the Kings' Drew Doughty earlier in these playoffs and Doughty was suspended for a game. And there were plenty of questions on various websites Wednesday night, as well as Twitter, about whether Kucherov's hit was dirty and worth of a suspension.

If that's a suspension then the league needs to close up shop. Kucherov's  hit was hard and violent, but it was clean. It was a good hockey hit. It was shoulder-to-shoulder, unlike Doughty's hit which make contact with his opponent's head. And many thought Doughty shouldn't have been suspended.

It's a shame that Vatanan was injured. You never want to see that. But no way Kucherov should be suspended or even fined.

Instigating the wrong guy

I get that New Jersey's Brian Boyle wants to play instigator and get under the skin of the Lightning. It's part of what he does. It's part of what makes him effective as a hockey player. But, if you're going to try to cause problems for the Lightning, don't you go after someone other than Mikhail Sergachev? I mean, no disrespect to Sergachev, but don't you try to irritate a superstar, such as Victor Hedman or, say, Steven Stamkos or Nikita Kucherov?

The only time Boyle decided to go after Kucherov was after Kucherov threw a big (and clean) hit in the first period.

Three things that popped into my head

1. Lightning had goal disallowed in first period because Cedric Paquette was deemed offsides. It was the right call. But having said that, does anyone else hate that offsides plays are reviewable? It so rarely impacts the actual play.  For a league that is always in search for more scoring, you would think that the league would want to rid itself of reviewing offsides plays.

2. Now who was the unsung hero of Game 4? Defenseman Braydon Coburn. He doesn't get the credit as fellow D-men Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman and Ryan McDonagh. In fact, he takes plenty of heat from Lightning fans. But he was outstanding in Game 4, as was Hedman, Stralman and McDonagh.

3. Glad that the Maple Leafs-Bruins series took a night off so we can watch what should be an interesting Game 4 on Thursday night. The first three games of the series were played on the same nights as the Lightning-Devils.

Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomjones

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