A feisty Nikita Kucherov scored two goals, set up another and knocked the Devils’ top defenseman out of the game with a big hit, and the Tampa Bay Lightning moved within a game of making the Devils’ first trip to the playoffs in six years a short one with a 3-1 road victory on Wednesday night.
J. T. Miller also scored and had two assists, and the Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped three breakaways in making 27 saves as the Lightning bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series.
Tampa Bay can wrap up the best-of-seven series in Game 5 at home on Saturday.
Kyle Palmieri scored on a five-on-three advantage for the Devils, who are back in the playoffs for the first time since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2012. It was the only time they beat Vasilevskiy, whose 44 wins in the regular season shared the league lead with Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck. Cory Schneider made 34 saves for the Devils in starting his second straight game.
This game might have been the roughest of the series, especially in the first period when the Lightning took a 2-1 lead in a session with a lot of scrums.
A play the N.H.L. probably will look at is Kucherov’s hit on Sami Vatanen late in the first. No penalty was called, but the league’s No. 3 scorer appeared to jump before hitting Vatanen in the shoulder and head area. Devils Coach John Hynes screamed at the officials after the play.