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The top-seeded Tampa Bay

TAMPA Mike Reilly Jersey , Fla. (AP) The top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning are well aware that the speedy New Jersey Devils are a dangerous opponent that can’t be taken lightly in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.The underdog Devils won all three regular-season meetings between the teams.That doesn’t guarantee success when the teams begin their best-of-7 Eastern Conference series Thursday night, but it clearly has the attention of the talented and more experienced Lightning.”When you get to this time of year, teams are so tight and they’re so close,” coach Jon Cooper said. ”There are no easy outs.”Tampa Bay is back in the playoffs after a one-year hiatus, aiming for a deep run for the third time in four seasons.After reaching the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals and coming within one victory of a return trip two years ago, the Atlantic Division champions have been driven by the disappointment of narrowly missing out a postseason berth in 2017.”We’ve talked about how disappointing last year was and kind of how that fueled us, especially at the beginning of the year. We kind of played with a chip on our shoulder a little bit,” captain Steven Stamkos said.”We have a very special group this year. We have an opportunity if we play as we know we can,” Stamkos added. ”But at the same time, it’s going to be a very difficult series.”New Jersey, led by left wing Taylor Hall and red-hot goalie Keith Kincaid, won 10 of 14 games down the stretch to earn a playoff berth.Hall had 39 goals and 54 assists to pace the Devils with 93 points, and Kincaid enters the postseason on a stretch in which he’s won seven of eight games.In addition to having the league’s top-scoring offense led by Nikita Kucherov (39 goals, 61 assists, 100 points) and Stamkos (27, 59, 86), the Lightning defense is anchored by Norris Trophy contender Victor Hedman and all-star goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who tied for the NHL lead in wins with 44.”They’re highly skilled Womens Paul Byron Jersey , (with) some good stay-at-home defensemen,” Kinkaid said. ”I think we’ve just got to play our game. It’s no different than the regular season. Get the puck down low, stick to our game plan, back check, then from great defense comes great offense.”—Some things to know about the Devils and Lightning:M-V-P: There is no one more important to the Devils than Hall. He had a career-season in getting to the playoffs for the first time since being the No. 1 overall draft pick by Edmonton in 2010. He had 39 goals, 54 assists and 93 points, all career highs. His season was highlighted when he had points in 26 straights appearances. The league does not consider it a streak because he missed three games with an injury. His confidence is sky high. In the final week of the season, he got a penalty shot against Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers. He skated in quickly and snapped a shot into the top corner of the net.READY FOR THE CHALLENGE: Vasilevskiy, who had a 2.62 goals-against average and .920 save percentage, enters the playoffs as a No. 1 goalie for the first time. He was instrumental in the Lightning getting off to a strong start and sporting the best record in the East for most of the season. Fatigue was a factor after the All-Star break. And while Tampa Bay’s potent offense carried the team plenty of nights, Cooper is confident the 23-year-old will be on his game for the postseason.”There are the big statistics of save percentage and goals against, and Vasilevskiy was great in those. But the one thing for me, is did he win the game? Because to me if you win the game 7-6 or 2-1, you still won the game,” Cooper said. ”Naturally is it a lot more satisfying to only give up one goal … but in the end it’s all about winning. That kid reeled off 44 of them, and that’s a pretty darn high number.”SHUTDOWN LINE: Whenever the line of Stamkos, Kucherov and J.T. Miller is on the ice, expect the Devils to counter with a line that features Travis Zajac at center with Blake Coleman on the left side and Stefan Noesen on the right. In the final month of the season, John Hynes used the trio whenever he could against an opponent’s top line. It might be hard to get the matchup on the road in the best-of-7 series Authentic Shea Weber Jersey , but it’s almost certain that will be the matchup at home, Not only has the line shut down opponents, it contributed 11 goals, including three game winners, in a late 10-2-1 run that carried New Jersey to the playoffs.PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE: While Tampa Bay has young players such as Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde and Anthony Cirelli set to play key roles for the first time, the Lightning has 13 players from the team that reached the Stanley Cup Finals three years ago.”Experience is what you make of it. Naturally, it’s good to have gone through some of these situations before, but I look at our team in 2015, we didn’t have that much experience but we were able to get through,” Cooper said. ”What I like about our group is we have a lot of guys that have played in a Cup Final as recently as a few years ago, and I think they are all playing with that chip on their shoulder.”— BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Tyson Jost and the speedy Colorado Avalanche caught the Buffalo Sabres flatfooted through most of the first 50 minutes on Sunday night.By the time the Sabres could recover, the Avalanche built what proved to be an insurmountable lead in hanging on for a 5-4 victory.”We’re a young, fast team. That’s part of our identity this year,” center Tyson Jost said. ”I like what we did that today, so that’s something we have to use to our advantage because we do have young legs.”The Avalanche ran circles around the Sabres – and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen in particular – by building a 3-1 lead through the 1:07 mark of the second period on Colin Wilson’s goal.Then, Jost and Gabriel Bourque sealed the win by converting rebounds less than four minutes apart to build the Avalanche lead to 5-2 with 12:57 remaining in a game Colorado never trailed.Wilson had a goal and assist, Matt Nieto scored on a short-handed breakaway and Alexander Kerfoot opened the scoring in the first minute.Jonathan Bernier stopped 28 shots and the Avalanche won for the third time in nine games (3-5-1) to keep pace in a tightly contested race for the Western Conference’s final two wild card spots. The Avalanche now have 64 points Victor Mete Jersey , just two behind Minnesota for the last playoff position.Ryan O’Reilly had a goal and two assists in Buffalo’s first game without leading scorer Jack Eichel, who will miss between four and six weeks with a sprained right ankle. Eichel was hurt in a 4-2 win at Boston on Saturday.Eichel’s absence wasn’t the issue for the Sabres. They were instead undone by a meltdown from their top defenseman, Ristolainen, who was on the ice for all five Colorado goals.The trouble began when Kerfoot scored 43 seconds in by tapping in Wilson’s pass on a two-man breakaway after both sneaked in behind Ristolainen and Nathan Beaulieu. Nieto’s short-handed goal that put Colorado up 2-1 came after Ristolainen muffed on keeping the puck in at the Avalanche blue line.Then Wilson’s 100th career goal was set up by captain Gabriel Landeskog, who forced Ristolainen to give up the puck in his own zone.”It’s just a bad game and it should not happen,” said Ristolainen, who was benched for much of the remainder of the second period.Coach Phil Housley didn’t mince words when asked about the defenseman’s struggles.”I think you saw the game,” Housley said. ”I think there’s some passengers tonight that weren’t prepared to play the game.”Evander Kane capped Buffalo’s scoring with 2:52 remaining. Casey Nelson and Benoit Pouliot scored short-handed goals and Robin Lehner stopped 22 shots for Buffalo.The Avalanche made up for the absence of their leading scorer, Nathan MacKinnon, who missed his sixth game with an upper body injury.The five goals against Buffalo matched Colorado’s combined output in going 1-3 in its previous four outings.”At times, it was a little bit of a strange game,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said of an outing in which the teams combined for three short-handed and two power-play goals. ”It wasn’t pretty, but it’s a big win for our team, no question.”Bednar said MacKinnon has been skating at home and has a chance to return soon.NOTES: The three short-handed combined goals scored wasn’t even a season-high for a Sabres game. Buffalo and the New York Islanders combined for two each in a Sabres’ 6-3 loss on Oct. 17. … Colorado played its 1,500th road game in team history and 2,999th overall, including the franchise’s tenure as the Quebec Nordiques. The Avs improved their all-time road record to 599-714-64 and 123 ties. … Sabres top defensive prospect Brendan Guhle returned to action with AHL Rochester after missing nearly a month with a lower body injury.UP NEXTAvalanche: Return home where they’ve won nine straight (one shy of matching franchise record) to host the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday.Sabres: Host Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.—

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    The top-seeded Tampa Bay
    The top-seeded Tampa Bay
    TAMPA Mike Reilly Jersey , Fla. (AP) The top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning are well aware that the speedy New Jersey Devils are a dangerous opponent ...