While Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier have been getting much of the credit for New Jersey's surprising playoff push, goaltender Keith Kinkaid has been the one carrying the Devils back to the postseason the past two weeks.
Kinkaid made 35 saves and the Devils took another major step toward making the playoffs for the first time since 2012 with a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.
Hischier and Kyle Palmieri scored for New Jersey, which has elevated its playoff chances with wins in five of seven games _ including outstanding efforts in beating the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the Eastern Conference-leading Lightning on consecutive nights.
"Keith has been a difference maker,'' Devils coach John Hynes said of Kinkaid, who had 75 saves the past two nights. "He has really come in and played well. He has made key saves at key times. He obviously won quite a few games and been a real important factor for us in remaining competitive in the playoff race. We would like to see him continue that at that level, as well.''
Kinkaid is 11-3 in his last 14 decisions since taking over the No. 1 goaltender's job after Cory Schneider was hurt in late-January and keeping it after Schneider returned.
Coupled with Florida's come-from-behind win over Arizona, the Devils are three points ahead of the Panthers in the race for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with seven games left in the regular season. Florida has two games in hand.
"I felt good last year with ups and downs, but once you get on a roll, confidence can take you a long way and I feel as comfortable as ever,'' Kinkaid said.
The Devils had to work for this one. They took a 2-0 lead into the third period and saw the margin halved when Ondrej Palat scored on a power play early.
Kinkaid saved the lead - and the win - with a diving save on a close-in attempt by Ryan McDonagh with just over two minutes to play and the net wide open. McDonagh said his shot hit the goalpost and Kinkaid then covered it.
"I hadn't been getting those bounces, but nice to get a few,'' Kinkaid said.
Andrei Vasilevskiy had 29 saves as the Lightning lost for only the third time in 16 games (12-3-1).
"We didn't have that urgency to play with a team that was flying tonight,'' Tampa Bay forward Chris Kunitz said.
Hischier, who set up Hall's overtime winner in Pittsburgh on Friday night, gave the Devils the lead, tapping the rebound of a shot by fellow rookie Will Butcher into an open net at 17:51 of the first period.
Palmieri doubled the lead at 10:59 of the second period, beating Vasilevskiy with a snap shot from between the circles for his 21st goal.
"We didn't give them much the whole night,'' Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "They capitalized on a rebound that squirted out and a goal-scorer making a goal-scoring move. We did a lot of things, but couldn't find the back of the net tonight.''
Kinkaid stopped 24 shots in the first two periods, and benefited in the second when Nikita Kucherov, the league's leading scorer, missed the net on a breakaway.
The Lightning were furious with linesman Steve Miller late in the second period when J.T. Miller was hit with a delay of game penalty for a faceoff violation with Tampa Bay about to go on a power play. Miller kicked three players out of the faceoff circle, starting with Steven Stamkos of the Lightning, Travis Zajac of the Devils and then Miller, who refused to comment on the penalty.
NOTES: The Devils signed G Cam Johnson to a one-year, entry-level contract, which will start next season. He is a college free agent who completed his senior season at the University of North Dakota. ... D Ben Lovejoy was out of the Devils' lineup for the first time since Dec. 30 and replaced by Mirco Mueller, who was playing for first time since Feb. 22. Mueller had an assist on Hischier's goal.
Lightning: Return home to face Arizona on Monday.
Devils: Host Carolina on Tuesday in second of four-game homestand.