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NHL: New Jersey Devils v Tampa Bay Lightning - A trio of clashes

Beginning with back-to-back games at Prudential Centre and ending at Amalie Arena, the New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning will meet three times over the next week.

The Lightning (39-22-6) are currently third in the Atlantic Division and are attempting to catch their all but certain first-round opponent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs, in order to get home ice advantage in the seven-game series.

Tampa Bay are four points behind the Leafs and have played one game more, and wanting to hit the playoffs in their best form, the Lightning will certainly want to quickly improve their recent 3-5-2 form.

New Jersey (44-16-6) are chasing top spot in the Metropolitan Division and, after a 3-0 win against Carolina Hurricanes, are level on points with the leaders, though they have played a game more.

The Devils have been one of the surprise success stories in the NHL this season and after making the playoffs just once since contesting the Stanley Cup Final a decade ago, they are +130 to win the Metropolitan Division.

What:New Jersey Devils v Tampa Bay Lightning
Where:

Tuesday and Thursday: Prudential Centre, New Jersey

Sunday: Amalie Arena, Tampa Bay 

When:

19:00, Tuesday 14th March

19:00, Thursday 16th March

19:00, Sunday 19th March 

How to watch:NHL.com, MSGSN & BSSUN
Odds:Wednesday: Tampa Bay Lightning +110, New Jersey Devils -130

Devils in form

The young New Jersey Devils aren't shying away from the challenge of beating the Hurricanes to the divisional title and have won three in a row and seven of their last 10 games.

Needing just 10 points from their remaining 16 games to break their four-season absence from the playoffs, the Devils aren't just focussing on regular season success but clearly believe they have a shot at meeting their +850 odds To Win Outright the Stanley Cup.

30-goal scorer Timo Meier was added by the Devils ahead of the NHL trade deadline to an already dangerous side which is being led by a core of youngsters in Jack Hughes, 21, Jesper Bratt, 24, and Dawson Mercer, 21.

Hughes is the standout star with 79 points (37 goals, 42 assists) but all of the other three have been outstanding offensively too, helping the Devils average 3.53 goals per-game which is fourth best in the NHL.

Youth meets experience

For the Devils to be successful, they will need to overcome considerably more experience in the Lightning ranks which has taken them to three straight Stanley Cup Final appearances and two back-to-back Championships.

Nikita Kucherov, 29, leads the Lightning with 95 points (26 goals, 69 points) and Brayden Point, 27, is their top goal scorer with 43.

Captain Steven Stamkos is third on the team with 66 points (27 goals, 39 assists) but his place in Tampa Bay's line-up is in question after he suffered a leg injury.

The Lightning average 3.45 goals per game (seventh) and have a very dangerous powerplay which currently ranks second in the NHL at 25.6 percent.

New Jersey's is 14th at 21.6% but they do have a better penalty kill than Tampa Bay, sitting ninth in the league at 82 percent, compared to the Lightning's 79.7 percent which is 14th.

Tampa Bay are +1000 To Win The Eastern Conference and reach a fourth straight Stanley Cup Final and they are +2000 To Win Outright the Stanley Cup.

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Vanecek faces stern Vasilevskiy test

New Jersey goalie Vitek Vanecek will surpass his career high of 42 starts against the Lightning, and the free agent signing from Washington Capitals has certainly proved himself worthy of being a number one with the Devils.

The 27-year-old has a 28-7-3 record with a .910 save percentage and 2.48 goals against average (GAA), but he will face his biggest challenge to date going up against Andrei Vasilevskiy who has proven to bring his best in the highest profile games.

The trio of fixtures will likely have a playoff feel about them, where Vasilevskiy has shone in recent years, but Vanecek has yet to feature much.

This season, 28-year-old Vasilevskiy has a 29-17-4 record, a .914 save percentage and a 2.7 GAA.

If back-up options are thrown into the mix with the first two games over three days, the Devils have Akira Schmid to call up on who has an excellent 8-4-1 record, .927 save percentage and a 1.91 GAA, while the Lightning will go with Brian Elliott who is 10-5-2 with a .896 save percentage and a 3.16 GAA.

Offense from defense

Both sides possess significant offense from the blue-line with the Devils' Dougie Hamilton second on points with 63 (18 goals, 45 assists) and Mikhail Sergachyov sixth for the Lightning with 48 points (seven goals, 41 assists).

Tampa Bay's top defenceman Victor Hedman (six goals, 37 assists) will likely be a major miss for the Lightning after picking up what looked like a serious back injury.

While said not to be long term, Hedman leads the Lighting with an average ice time of 23.59 and so the likes of Sergachyov and 24-year-old Nick Perbix (five goals, 19 assists) will need to step up further in his absence.

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