After 13 straight games this post-season of the New York Rangers playing in tight, one-goal hockey games, the Tampa Bay Lightning struck three times on the powerplay, adding another shorthanded and defeating the Rangers by a score of 6-2. The game relied heavily on special teams as six of the eight goals scored between both teams came with a man in the penalty box, sometimes a few.
The first period was riddled with penalties, seven minors in 20 minutes. Two powerplay goals and one shorthanded were scored in the opening frame and the two teams put up as much production on the scoreboard than in the entirety of game one.
But it was a Tyler Johnson hat-trick in the first thirty minutes of the contest that set the tone, the first hat trick recorded during the playoffs in Lightning franchise history. Goals from Steven Stamkos and two by Alex Killorn put some serious doubt in the Rangers and their fans, silencing Madison Square Garden. Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider scored for New York.
For Henrik Lundqvist, it was a tough night in goal, although it’s tough to blame the goaltender on a night like this. 6 goals on 24 shots, the Lightning did to Lundqvist what they did to Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender Carey Price, in game two of the second round. On the powerplay, the offensive dynamo created openings with their crisp and precise passing and managed to get Lundqvist moving side to side, opening up the net more and making life hard for the King.
For Ben Bishop, he stood tall (like no other goaltender can), stopping 34 of 36 and keeping his team in the game with key saves at moments when they needed it, as he watched the best scoring team in the NHL during the regular season put six on the board.
Lightning Take Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final
The game plan for the Lightning early on was to get traffic in front of Henrik Lundqvist. A goaltender of his calibre, if Henrik sees the shot, he’ll stop it and the only way to make it difficult for him is to take away his vision. The other tactic the Lightning seemed to shift to was the transition of their defenseman off a face-off win, moving to an open spot on the wing instead of firing a shot through a bunch of bodies, which failed in game one due to the Rangers excellent shot blockers.
Brian Boyle took a penalty three minutes into the game for holding onto Marc Staal and shortly after, Jason Garrison flipped the puck over the glass, taking a delay of game penalty and giving the Rangers a two-man advantage for 1:04. With some offensive zone pressure, New York got a few good looks and a shot on goal, but it was a Martin St. Louis blunder at the blue-line that caused a turnover, sending young sensation Tyler Johnson on a breakaway. Lundqvist made the initial save but the collision between he and one of his defenseman caused Lundqvist to slide back into the net along with the puck. While the net became dislodged, a discussion with Toronto determined it was a good goal.
Just three minutes later, the Rangers would strike back while on the powerplay. A point shot managed to get through and Chris Kreider, who was in a battle for the slot against both Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman, managed to track a rebound and fire the puck behind Ben Bishop, tying it up at one goal apiece.
As the period drew on, the chippy play did not go unnoticed. Kreider, who had been previously warned by officials to watch his borderline plays, went off for roughing. The Lightning could not capitilize however, as former Ranger Ryan Callahan went off for a tripping call. Derek Stepan added to the hilarity, as he too took a penalty shortly after for tripping, giving the Lightning a brief 4-on-3 powerplay. Johnson put the Lightning ahead once again, scoring his second goal of the game on a powerplay that included three other forwards; Ondrej Palat, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. The crafty puck-moving of the four forwards provided difficulty down-low, allowing for Kucherov to hit Johnson with a cross-crease pass, giving him his 10th goal of the post-season.
Despite the Rangers out-shooting the Lightning 11-9 in the first, it was the Lightning who took the lead to the dressing room. It was uncharacteristic of both teams to come out of the gates as undisciplined as they did, combining for seven minor penalties. What was normal was Johnson finding his name on the scoresheet. The small center played 6:10 and put up two goals on four shots, notching his ninth and tenth goals of the post-season.
The lack of discipline leaked into the second period, as Braydon Coburn took a roughing penalty after taking a run at Carl Hagelin behind the play, after turning the puck over. This time, the duo of Stralman and Hedman helped box out Kreider and took away any real chance for the Rangers to get a decent shot through. Their best chance came when Keith Yandle sent J.T. Miller to the races, breaking through on a partial breakaway and firing a shot on net.
After killing off the early penalty, the Lightning managed to hold the Rangers in their own zone, pinning them there for nearly two minutes thanks to the solid play by Johnson’s line. The constant cycling and set up at the point allowed for a few shots on net and they even managed to get a line change in as the Rangers scrambled, with McDonagh and Yandle running on fumes.
Lightning struck once again, as Tyler Johnson completed the hat-trick. A miscue by Staal sent Kucherov and Palat on a two-on-one and after Palat hit the cross-bar with a fantastic shot, Johnson came in as the third man, burrowing through and getting his stick on the puck, pushing it past Lundqvist. The best line in the regular season (Palat-Johnson-Kucherov) proved to not miss a beat in the post-season. At the mid-way point of the game, the Lightning’s top line combined for 7 shots on goal and 6 points (Johnson’s 3 goals, Kucherov’s 2 assists and Palat’s 1 assist). The entire Lightning team had 14 shots on net at this point. Johnson also became the first player to record a playoff hat trick at Madison Square Garden since Eric Lindros, on May 20th, 1997. What’s even more incredible about the hat trick is that it is the first playoff hat trick recorded in Tampa Bay franchise history.
During a collision between Stamkos and Kevin Klein, the linesman was caught in the cross-fires and appeared to injure his left knee. Brad Kovachik made the call before play was stopped and it was visible that he could not put any weight on his left aside, as he was helped off the ice. Brad Devorski was on-hand as the replacement and made his way into the game as Kovachik could not continue.
Stepan gave Rangers fans something to cheer about, later in the period, when he scored on the powerplay to bring down the lead to one. After Bishop made the initial save, he slid out of his crease, allowing for Stepan to gather the rebound and bounce the puck off of the back of Bishop and in. Of course, this didn’t come without some theatrics on Broadway, as Dominic Moore appeared to get away with a dive after minimal contact from Cedric Paquette.
The embellishment, which was not called, would later hurt the Rangers as a blatant trip went uncalled while the Rangers were pressing for the tying goal, allowing the Lightning to clear their zone before anymore damage could be done.
The Rangers came out flying in the third, albeit a little too much as Stepan took a tripping penalty just a minute in. Rick Nash had a great chance to even things up shorthanded, but a missed opportunity led to an Alex Killorn powerplay goal after an excellent slap-pass came off the stick of Hedman, giving Tampa Bay their two goal lead back.
The parade to the box continued for the Rangers when Derrick Brassard attempted a stick-check on Kucherov. His stick rolled up and caught Kucherov in the throat, giving the ref no choice but to make a high-sticking call. The Lightning storm continued as Coburn floated a wrist shot from the point, which was tipped by Stamkos in front of the net.
After taking their three goal lead, Tampa played solid defensive hockey, clogging up the neutral zone and smothering the Rangers in their own end. For John Cooper, it was the perfect road game.
Late in the game, Rangers tough guy Tanner Glass attempted to spark some life to the Rangers by causing a ruckus in front of Bishop after a whistle, but for his efforts he was handed a two minute penalty for roughing and a game misconduct, as a sign of trying to start something at the end of the contest. The Bolts would make them pay as Killorn scored his second goal of the contest, second goal on the powerplay as well, to give the Lightning a 6-2 lead.
With the New York Rangers playing their worst game of this post-season, they’ll hope for a bounce back game from their starting goaltender and perhaps a little bit more discipline as well. For Tampa, they got exactly what they needed; a series split in the first two games, heading back home. With Tyler Johnson going, Stamkos awake and two lines clicking on the powerplay, don’t expect this series to be over soon.