So, you thought the two time defending Stanley Cup champions were going to just shrivel up and go away?
Tampa Bay scored three unanswered goals to score a come from behind 3-2 win over the Rangers in game three of the Eastern Conference Finals at Amalie Arena.
Tampa Bay left wing Ondrej Palat scored the game winning goal with 41.6 seconds left to cut the Rangers’ lead in the series to two games to one.
Four of the five goals were scored on the power play, two apiece for each team but the Lightning outplayed the Rangers and imposed their will on the game in the third period. “They were the better team tonight overall,” Head Coach Gerard Gallant said after the disappointing loss.
Igor Shesterkin was under fire once again.
The 26 year old goaltender made 48 saves as the Lightning made it a point to be physical with him and ended up taking some penalties because of it. Andrei Vasilevskiy played his best game of the series for Tampa Bay and stopped 28 shots. Shesterkin didn’t seem to be bothered by the physicality but Gallant was not so accomodating.
“It fazes me more than him. I don’t like it, I don’t think it’s a big part of it,” Gallant said. “Hopefully, when we talk to the [NHL Supervisor of Officials] tomorrow, they’ll care of some of that because it wasn’t right.”
25 seconds after the Rangers grabbed a two goal lead in the second period on Chris Kreider’s power play goal, Jacob Trouba was called for interference giving the Lightning a very important power play that allowed them to get right back in the game. Trouba, who played his worst game in the post season, took three minor penalties and did not impact the game in a positive vein as he had done previously in the playoffs.
The Rangers were tentative on the penalty kill and they allowed Tampa Bay too much room to operate. Nikita Kucherov, who had a great game with a goal and two assists, fired a one timer past Shesterkin from the right face off circle to give the Lightning some life as they cut the lead to 2-1.
“That first [Tampa Bay power play] one, we were letting them go back and forth through the middle a few times,” Adam Fox said.
Tampa Bay took advantage of Trouba’s second minor penalty to tie the game early in the third.
With the Rangers’ defenseman in the box for holding, Corey Perry skated in on right wing and passed cross ice to Steven Stamkos who blasted a one timer past Shesterkin at 1:22 of the third to tie the game at two.
From there, the Lightning imposed their will on the game and had a 44-26 shot advantage midway through the period and a two to one advantage in offensive zone time.
“We coulda done a better job of weathering the storm a little bit,” Mika Zibanejad said after the game.
Tampa Bay had the Rangers on their heels, however Kucherov was called for a double minor for high sticking with less than nine minutes remaining. The Rangers had a golden opportunity to break the tie but the Lightning were equal to the challenge.
Tampa Bay was able to kill it off, thanks in part to Trouba’s third minor penalty when he tripped Alex Killorn. “We come in here, we knew it was going to be a battle,” Gallant said. “I come in here after two periods, it was two-two. You give yourself a chance to win and that’s what we got.”
As time wound down in the third and the game appeared to be headed to overtime, the Lightning had the puck in the Ranger zone. Hedman passed to the slot where Kucherov did not waste any time as he made a pretty back hand pass, that went past Zibanejad to Palat who beat Shesterkin, short side for the game winner.
When Zibanejad was asked about the play at the post game podium, Kreider interrupted him before he could answer and took the blame for the play that cost them the game. “I gotta get the puck out. I’m puck watching, I should’ve came and planted instead of filtering a little bit too far back to the net,” Kreider said.
The Rangers drew first blood in the second period.
With Perry off for slashing, Zibanejad scored on a one timer from his favorite spot on the left side for a 1-0 lead at 7:37. The Rangers center took a feed from Adam Fox (18 assists) and fired the puck past Andrei Vasilevskiy for his tenth goal of the post season.
Zibanejad has six power play goals to tie the franchise record (Adam Graves in 1996) in a single post season. Both Zibanejad and Fox have points in eight straight games.
A little over two minutes later, Kreider scored his tenth of the playoffs on the power play.
Artemi Panarin, who had two assists, passed cross ice to Zibanejad who fired the one timer. Vasilevskiy couldn’t secure the puck and Kreider pounced on the rebound in front to tie a franchise record.
The goal was Kreider’s 34th in the playoffs to tie him with Rod Gilbert, who also scored 34 Stanley Cup playoff goals.
Ryan Strome was injured in the second period and left the bench. He tried to return but he could not go and was out for the remainder of the game with what was being reported as a lower body injury.
Strome’s absence was not an excuse but it does force Gallant to juggle lines and made in game adjustments. “He came back for one shift and he just wasn’t good enough, we’ll know more tomorrow. Hopefully, he’s fine for the next one,” Gallant said.
Barclay Goodrow got hurt blocking a shot in the third period and left the ice but he was back fairly quickly and finished the game.
The Rangers had a chance to put a strangle hold on the series but couldn’t get the job done and the Lightning have life.
Did Gallant feel like the Rangers let one slip away? “I wouldn’t say we let it get away because they played really well but we could’ve stole it tonight,” he said.
They’ll try and “steal” game four on Tuesday night.