After completely outplaying the Rangers and losing the first two games of their Eastern Conference Finals series, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked like the team was drowning in a younger version of themselves.
But it would be naive to think that the Lightning, the winners of the last two Stanley Cups, will quietly leave. The team includes stars such as center Steven Stamkos, as well as battle-hardened veterans including defenseman Viktor Hedman and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who have led the NHL in regular season wins over the past five years.
Back in Tampa, Florida trailing two games of the series to zero, the Lightning were the more aggressive and quick team in Game 3. two goals behind and breathe life into their bid to win another Stanley Cup.
Ondrej Palat, who scored the second most playoff goals in Lightning history, buried the game winner with 42 seconds left, taking a great pass from Nikita Kucherov and blasting it past Igor Shesterkin’s gloved left hand.
The Lightning were clearly more energetic playing in front of their fans, their talented wingers rushing past the Rangers, and Vasilevsky looked much sharper than in New York.
“We enjoy playing here and hopefully we will win the next game as well,” Palat said in a televised interview after the game.
Having squandered a two-goal lead away, the Rangers were furious. Chris Kreider, the only player left from the Rangers’ last conference final appearance in 2015, took credit for the Lightning’s win, claiming he was out of position and missed a chance to block a shot and had to clear the area . . “I followed the puck,” he said. said at the post-match press conference.
The Lightning started the game by holding the Rangers in their zone for a long time, and they didn’t give up the puck as often as they did at Madison Square Garden. Vasilevsky made three quick saves to the Rangers in the first period, all with a left rubber to keep the Rangers off the scoreboard and Tampa Bay neutralized the Rangers’ top line with Kreider, Miki Zibanejad and Frank Vatrano.
But the Rangers withstood the Lightning’s onslaught thanks to Shesterkin, who stopped all 15 of the Lightning’s shots on goal, including a break from Kucherov, who ran out of the box and took a long pass from defenseman Ryan McDonagh before his shot was knocked down. to the side.
After a goalless first period, the teams exchanged penalties. Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren and Lightning forward Ross Colton were sent off after fighting outside the Rangers goal. But just 15 seconds into the four-on-four game, Zibanejad converted an interference penalty to give Tampa Bay a four-on-three lead.
The Rangers had their best chance when defenseman K’Andre Miller intercepted the puck from Kucherov and raced across the ice with teammate Barclay Goodrow, who hit the far post.
Then the Lightning, who had minimized the mistakes that had hurt them in the first two games, made two mistakes of their own. Corey Perry was sent off for a cut after he hit Shesterkin’s mask with a stick, erasing Tampa’s power play. The Rangers, who had failed to score in their four power plays in Game 2 and were disorganized by their lead in the first period, looked sharper.
Artemi Panarin and then Adam Fox passed across the ice to Zibanejad, who sent Vasilevskiy 94 mph with 12:23 left in the period. It was Zibanejad’s 10th playoff goal and sixth in a powerplay game, setting a team record set by Adam Graves in 1996.
Less than a minute later, the Lightning’s Riley Nash collided with Shesterkin and was called out for goaltender interference, returning the Rangers to powerplay. Once again, Panarin found Zibanejad in almost the same spot to Vasilevsky’s right, and although Zibanejad’s shot was stopped this time, Kreider rebounded on the rebound to score his 10th playoff goal.
Fearing that the game — and the series — would spiral out of control, the Lightning needed to react, and quickly. They got their chance about 30 seconds later when Rangers defenseman Jacob Truba was called out for interference.
After exchanging passes with Stamkos, Kucherov took a pass from Hedman and fired a low from the right lap, breaking through Shesterkin’s rubbers.
Three goals at 3:13 changed the nature of the game as both teams played weaker and more assertive.
Less than a minute into the third period, the Rangers were on their heels and Truba was called to hold on. Tampa Bay replied. Perry drove deep into the Rangers zone and passed to Stamkos, who hit Shesterkin’s left shoulder and crossbar before hitting the net to equalize at 2-2.
The Lightnings were given another chance after Vatrano collided with Vasilevsky in a breakaway and was sent off for goaltender interference, although he was pushed by McDonagh.
The Rangers withstood pressure from Tampa Bay, who landed eight shots. Goodrow, who played for the Lightning for the past two seasons before signing with the New Yorkers in the offseason, stopped one of them with his left ankle and limped off the ice.
After the loss, Zibanejad skated on the ice, but hit Kucherov’s stick in the face. Kucherov received a four-minute double minor for the high stick. However, the Rangers squandered the lead when Truba knocked Alex Killorn down on a breakaway and was awarded his third penalty of the game.
For the first time in six chances this season, the Lightning have beaten the Rangers, and the victory came in handy for them. The Lightning likely knew that teams had only come back from three-game deficits four times in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Those stats will remain unchanged, but the Lightning are still two games to one behind the Rangers as they head into Game 4 on Tuesday in Tampa.