Tampa ties Eastern Conference Finals as series moves to New York

Other than “commanding a three-game-to-zero lead,” there’s perhaps no more overworked phrase in playoff hockey than “pivotal play 5.” A...

Other than “commanding a three-game-to-zero lead,” there’s perhaps no more overworked phrase in playoff hockey than “pivotal play 5.”

After all, every postseason game, especially when teams make it to the Eastern Conference Finals like the Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning, is crucial.

That was certainly true Tuesday when the Rangers and Lightning played Game 4 in Tampa, Fla. The Rangers, up two games to one, needed a win to head home with a chance of securing a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals against Colorado. Avalanche, which swept the Edmonton Oilers on Monday, and avoided another grueling seven-game series as they did against the Penguins in the first round and the Hurricanes in the conference semifinals.

The Lightning wanted to build on their third game, victory from behind, and continue their march to a third straight Stanley Cup title. Their extensive playoff experience ended up being the difference, as the Lightning overwhelmed the Rangers, 4-1, to send the teams back to New York for Game 5 on Thursday with the series tied.

If you ordered a Stanley Cup contender from the factory hockey team, the Lightning would appear on your doorstep. The team is filled with confident and seasoned stars like Steven Stamkos, their captain; Nikita Kucherov; and Ondrej Palat, who have been playing together since 2015, when they beat the rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

After being outflanked by the Rangers in the first two games of the series in New York, the Lightning played with their signature speed and discipline. They were faster to the puck, grabbing rebounds and pushing the Rangers, allowing them to spend a significant portion of the game in the offensive zone.

“It wasn’t our best, Games 1 and 2,” Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian said after the game. “Towards the end of Game 2 we started to find our identity a bit and we showed that in the last two home games. Now is the time to hit the road and get to work.

The Rangers looked lucky to skate off the ice with just one goal after the first period and two goals after the second period.

“We’re going back to our speed game and finding ways to get the puck behind them,” the Tampa Bay forward said. Patrick Brown said after the game.

In some ways, the Rangers are no different from that Lightning team that beat them in 2015. They started the season as the third-youngest roster in the NHL and played with verve for much of the year. . They beat the most experienced Pittsburgh Penguinsthen drop the Carolina Hurricaneswho won the Metropolitan Division against Rangers.

As the Rangers learned in their two losses in Tampa, the Lightning are a cut above. They bottled up Rangers’ best players, including their top scorer, Chris Kreider, and their top assist, Artemi Panarin. They only took a few penalties and kept the Rangers power unit off the ice for the first two periods of Game 4. Their goalkeeper, Andrei Vasilevskiy, has regained the confidence that eluded him in the first two games.

“There’s a lot of experience in this room,” Stamkos said after the game. “That’s what we rely on.”

The Lightning jumped ahead less than three minutes into Game 4 when Bogosian’s shot was blocked by Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin, but Maroon ran out of control and sent the puck over Shesterkin’s pads and into the net. It was Maroon’s third playoff goal and an ominous sign for the Rangers, who were beaten by a fourth-line Lightning playing as if on the power play.

Shortly after, Rangers faced another test when their enforcer, Ryan Reaves, was called off for tripping. Shesterkin kept the Rangers in the game by smothering the puck with his outstretched leg.

However, Shesterkin was not Rangers’ problem. In the second half, Rangers came alive for a while but had nothing to show after expending huge amounts of energy.

Then Palat, which scored the winning goal in Game 3 With less than a minute remaining, he veered into the neutral zone and sent a pass to his linemate, Kucherov, who was waiting alone at the blue line. Kucherov broke away and put the puck between Shesterkin’s pads for a 2-0 lead at Tampa Bay.

It was Kucherov’s seventh postseason goal and his third straight season with at least 20 playoff points, the first time it had happened since Red Wings Hall of Famer Sergei Fedorov did it in four consecutive seasons between 1995 and 1998.

Rangers finally scored with 3:33 left in the game, ending a drought that stretched back midway through Game 3, when Panarin collected a loose puck and fired it past Vasilevskiy. It was the Rangers’ 17th power-play goal of the playoffs, which only underscored how poorly the Rangers played at even strength.

Rangers aren’t done, of course. They still have home-court advantage and are 8-1 at Madison Square Garden so far in the playoffs. Their only home playoff loss came in the opening game of the first round when they lost in triple overtime to the Penguins.

The Rangers also played their best back-to-the-wall hockey in the playoffs. They overcame a three-to-one first-round deficit to beat the Penguins and eliminated the Hurricanes by winning Game 7 on the road.

“They make all kinds of plays and have really good speed,” Lightning center Anthony Cirelli said after the game. “Just be on top of them. You have to know when they are on the ice where they are and limit them.

Whether the Rangers will be at full strength is a question. Ryan Strome did not play in Game 4 after suffering an injury on Sunday. And center Filip Chytil, a third of the “Kid Line” which includes Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko, who are all 22 or younger, left the game in game 4 after taking a hit along the wall.

Whether Strome and Chytil, or both, play, the Lightning will be looking to be the first team in this series to win on the road.

“At some point, if we’re going to win the series, we’re going to have to win on the road,” Stamkos said.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Tampa ties Eastern Conference Finals as series moves to New York
Tampa ties Eastern Conference Finals as series moves to New York
Newsrust - US Top News
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