NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Brandon Hagel had a goal and two assists, Andrei Vasilevskiy made 22 saves and Tampa Bay scored the last four goals in a 4-1 victory over New Jersey on Tuesday night.
Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov also scored for Tampa Bay in the opener of a two-game set. The teams will meet again in New Jersey on Thursday night, and face off Sunday night in Florida.
“They’re one of the top teams in the league,” Hagel said. “They’ve been having an incredible season. They’re a playoff team so it’s a good test for us and for us to be able to do this. Hopefully, we can get some momentum off this.”
Damon Severson opened the scoring for the Devils at 5:55 of the first period. Ryan Graves’ apparent goal midway through the first was wiped out because of goalie interference after a coach’s challenge.
“We didn’t start bad, that’s for sure,” New Jersey defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler said. “We just need to be consistent over 60 minutes.”
Cirelli tied it on a backhander while Tampa Bay was short-handed with 3:43 left in the first.
“It goes from down 2-0 to their head on a power play to now we’re 1-1 and it was a huge spark for us and we were able to get the second one to get the lead and that was big for us,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But that was a big part of the game, the challenge and the shorty.”
Hagel gave Tampa Bay the lead midway through the second with his 24th goal of the season. Alex Killorn added his 21st goal, and Nikita Kucherov scored his 27th right before the second-period horn sounded.
“There were some big moments of the game and I looked up and I think he had the puck in the blue line with five seconds left but … Kucherov can finish in those areas,” Cooper said. “But probably the one that popped the balloon was definitely that fourth one.”
Tampa Bay scored its three goals in the second on just seven shots.
Vitek Vanecek made 26 saves for New Jersey.
“I look at his last game and I look at how well he played. He wasn’t the guy that was turning pucks over. He wasn’t the guy to give up the short-handed goal,” Ruff said. “You can always go to the goaltender. If he didn’t make some of the saves he made last game, I might be standing, explaining the same thing to you again.”
NOTES: Forward Curtis Lazar made his Devils debut after he was acquired at trade deadline from the Vancouver Canucks. He replaced Nathan Bastion (upper-body injury). … Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos (leg injury) remains day-to-day.