Still a day and a half after the Devils’ critical loss in Game 4, I’m angry. Not angry at the team per se but angry at this joke of a league, and angry at this faux tough guy Lightning team who’ve lost all the respect I had for them as a franchise between the end of Game 3 and the first period of Game 4 with their Flyer-like shenanigans that had very real consequences for the Devils. I still don’t feel like recapping the 3-1 loss that put the Devils season on the brink of ending tomorrow to be honest. What’s the point? I feel like coach John Hynes who was…not exactly vociferous in the postgame Wednesday night.
There isn’t much to recap anyway, the difference in the game was the first period and in more ways than one. I know it’s strange to say in a 2-1 plus empty net goal game but both goalies made a difference – obviously Andrei Vasilevskiy in a positive manner holding the Devils to just one five-on-three goal during their initial surge and Cory Schneider once again in a negative sense. Just minutes after the Devils took the early lead Cory again allowed a short side special that flushed the goodwill he earned Monday back down the toilet along with with the other two goals allowed in the first. Granted, the most egregious goal Cory allowed was actually taken off the board due to the world’s most obvious offsides miss. Which also should have been a harbinger over how poorly an officiated game it was going to be when it takes barely a few seconds to disallow a goal on offsides.
It’s not as if the officials were only messing up one way either, an insanely quick whistle on a bad rebound in the third period prevented another hideous goal off Cory. However the refs were too invested in making the ticky tack call while missing obvious intent to injure penalties on the Lightning in that chippy first period. Culminating in the most controversial play of the night, Nikita Kucherov’s brutal takeout of the Devils’ best D in Sami Vatanen. I don’t care what anyone says about the ‘point of contact’, that was a dirty hit whether the league wants to admit it or not. For the simple reason being Kucherov left his feet before impact and launched himself at Vatanen. I thought he jumped at the time and still think so after replays. I don’t care where he actually hit him, that’s missing the point in this case. That hit was worse than the Drew Doughty play which did garner a one game suspension.
Of course this league being the joke it is there was no penalty called on Kucherov, and no supplemental discipline after the fact. Just like there wasn’t even a fine for Victor Hedman spearing Nico Hischier in the jewels toward the end of Game 3. For a league that professes concern over player safety they have a funny way of showing it. Usually on the NHL’s warped wheel of discipline the fact Vatanen was taken out of the game and probably the series with an obvious concussion would factor in the discipline but evidently not when a Devil is involved. Those Devils vs. the World T-shirts seemed more apt than ever after Game 4.
Predictably the Devils’ transition game and PP both became a tire fire without Vatanen for the game’s final two periods. Sure we also missed several breakaways but there was a clear difference in the final two periods with both the team and a defeated crowd. A grinding, unhappy loss seemed inevitable after the opening twenty minutes and it came to pass. As much as anything I felt it was a bit unfair the game and the series both likely ended on the same highly questionable hit, it’d be one thing if Tampa outtalented us the way they did the first two games but to have quite possibly the final home game of the season end with a whimper and bitterness seems unfair to a team that rejuvenated interest in the Devils this season.
Yet I know life itself can be unfair at times. Sometimes you just have to shrug and say nothing can be done. Plus who knows, maybe this team which has pulled a number of rabbits out of its hat this year finds at least one more tomorrow afternoon in Tampa, setting up one more home game on Monday where in a worst case at least this team can get a send off it deserves. And in a best case keep the series going even longer and annoy these Slapshot wannabes.