NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored in a 3:04 span of the third period, and the Tampa Bay Lightning rallied from an early two-goal deficit to beat the New Jersey Devils 6-3 on Tuesday night.
Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn had scored in a 41-second span late in the second period to tie the game at 3-all. Pat Maroon also scored for the Lightning, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 22 saves as Tampa Bay improved to 8-2-1 in its last 11.
“We were not ready,” Bellemare said of the slow start. “I think, even though despite the fact that we talked nothing about the break, we were way too slow. And unfortunately, we had to get a kick in the butt and finally we woke up, so I would put that in the unacceptable category.”
Rookie Dawson Mercer had a goal and two assists for New Jersey, which has lost nine of 11. Jack Hughes and Yegor Sharangovich added a goal and an assist. Jon Gillies made 24 saves before being lifted after the sixth goal.
Hedman broke the 3-all tie with a slap shot from the left point at 7:17 that beat a screened Gillies. Kucherov made it a two-goal game on a breakaway less than two minutes later. Bellemare swept a loose puck into an open net after Gillies misplayed a shot by Corey Perry, who also had the primary assist on the Hedman goal.
Trailing 3-1 with less than five minutes left in the second period, the Lighting finally woke up. Stamkos, who has three goals in his last two games, closed the deficit to a goal with a shot from the top of the circles. Killorn knotted the game by tipping a point shot by Mikhail Sergachev past Gillies.
One of the things that woke up the Lightning was coach Jon Cooper’s decisions to change some of his lines.
“We’ve been a team that has done pretty well this year, and there’s definitely chemistry in the lines and then when you see your coach change the lines it’s maybe a little bit of a wake-up call,” Killorn said. “As we saw tonight, we scored pretty quickly once those lines got changed, so it was nice. I don’t know they might say the same.”
Devils veteran forward Tomas Tatar felt the Devils dominated the first 35 minutes, and then the quick goals took the air out of them for the third.
“It was an open game,” Tatar said. “But I felt like we just kind of gave up once they tied the game and we were not playing the same way as we did in the first half of the game.”
Devils defenseman Damon Severson said Lightning were the better team in the final 25 minutes.
“They’re back-to-back Stanley Cup championship winning teams,” he said. “They were going to be a lot better than they were to start the game and we just, I don’t know what happened there in the last 20 minutes. We were fully in our control game, 3-1, and just let it go.”
Mercer and Hughes did the majority of the work in putting New Jersey ahead.
Mercer got credit for the first New Jersey goal, but Hughes made the play. He stick-checked Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak as he was handling the puck near his net and the force of the check nudged the puck off the stick and into the net. Mercer got his 11th goal because he was the last Devil to have possession of the puck.
Maroon tied the game less than a minute later, collecting a loose puck in front and beating Gillies in close.
A giveaway by Hedman on a penalty kill in his own zone led to a power-play goal by Sharangovich at 19:04.
Hughes stretched the lead to 3-1 less than two minutes into the second period when he backhanded his own rebound into the net after Vasilevskiy stopped his one-on-one chance. Mercer set up the initial chance, taking the puck from Lightning defenseman Cal Foote at the blue line.
NOTES: Killorn’s goal was his 162nd, moving him past Tyler Johnson for fifth in Lightning history. … Devils center Nico Hischier had his four-game goal scoring streak snapped. It was tied for the longest of his career. … Perry is still looking for his 400th career goal.
Lightning: Play host to Edmonton on Feb. 23.
Devils: At Pittsburgh on Feb. 24.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism