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NHL Playoffs 2018: How do the Devils reduce the speed of Nikita Kucherov and the upper line of the Lightning?

The Devils return to the NHL playoffs on Thursday, when they visit Tampa Bay Lightning for Game 1 of their first-round series.

Forcing the Lightning's upper line to play defense could be the best way for the Demons to slow them down in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The trio of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and J.T. Miller forms the top line for the Rayo offense, one that scored the best 3.54 goals per game in the regular season.

When the Devils have the chance, they will counter that line with their own defensive plugs: Travis Zajac, Blake Coleman and Stefan Noesen.

When the best defensive line of the Devils is at its best, they are pressing opponents in the Demons' offensive zone. The more time they spend there, the less possibilities the opposite upper lines can generate.

"They are good skaters, but they just stay on top of the puck, doing defensive readings first up to where they do not get submerged in the plays, taking an angle and still being aggressive," Coleman said. "We want to play in the offensive zone as much as we can, that's the best way to limit the talented players.

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Regardless of how well the Devils defend, Ray's top line will still generate its share of opportunities.

Kucherov finished as one of three NHL players to break 100 points this season. Stamkos would have led many teams with his 86 points, while Miller finished with 18 points in 19 games after being traded by the Rangers to Lightning.

Its combination of size, speed and ability makes all three particularly difficult.

"They are all different types of players, all very versatile," Coleman said. "I think any high-level skill like that, the best way to limit them is to take time and space, not give them time to see the ice and see the plays they're going to do, if you're going to be hit by them, it has to be a pretty incredible play. "

Playing against an opponent's top line will not be anything new to Zajac, Coleman and Noesen. The three of them clicked on the closing line of the Demons during the second half of the season.

Now, when entering a series at the best of seven against an opponent, three will have to continually adjust and fight beyond a game.

They are very competitive. When you look at them, I think they read each other well, "Devils coach John Hynes said of Lightning's top line." Everyone can score. They are deadly snipers. When they have time and space, when they change a play, you will have to save that line, but you must also be aware of them. "[19659002] Chris Ryan can be contacted at cryan@njadvancemedia.com Follow him on Twitter @ChrisRyan_NJ . Find NJ.com Devils on Facebook.

        
        
    


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