Through four differing games between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers, the home team is producing the better performance and ultimately emerging victorious.
With the Eastern Conference finals deadlocked at two wins apiece, the series returns to New York for Game 5 on Thursday where the Rangers hope to continue their recent home-ice dominance. The Lightning, in turn, bid to buck the trend and move within a game of clinching a third straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
New York returns to Madison Square Garden with an eight-game home winning streak in the playoffs after opening the series with a 6-2 rout and a 3-2 win after it staved off a late Tampa Bay charge. The Lightning, however, continued that charge when the series shifted south for the next two games.
The Lightning rallied for a 3-2 win in Game 3 on Sunday afternoon and then cruised to a 4-1-win two nights later to even the series.
New York did not appear close to scoring most of the night on Tuesday.
“We’ve done a good job at home. I think if you look around the league a lot of teams play better in their home building,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “I’m disappointed tonight. I’m sure (the players) are, but it’s a best two-out-of-three, we still have the home-ice advantage, so we have to make sure we’re ready for the next game. The next one is big.”
The Lightning are in position to take their first lead of the series after receiving huge performances from their stars. Nikita Kucherov scored for the third straight game, captain Steven Stamkos scored his third goal of the series and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 15 of his 34 saves in the third period, including five on Mika Zibanejad.
“We’ve got ourselves squared up in this series. It’s great, much better than the position we were in a couple days ago. But this is where it gets down to the really tough stuff,” Stamkos said.
“These next couple of games, we have to go on the road, and we have to find a way to win a game in their barn. We’re looking forward to that challenge, but I really like where our game is now compared to where it was a couple days ago.”
Tampa Bay’s game drastically has improved from the middle of Game 3. The Rangers held a 2-0 lead 9:44 into the second period after Zibanejad and Chris Kreider scored power-play goals 2:07 apart, but Kucherov and Stamkos tallied and Ondrej Palat netted the go-ahead goal with 41.6 seconds left in the third.
On Tuesday, the Lightning did not need to concern themselves with a comeback. They seized the lead 2:38 into the game and frustrated the Rangers defensively — particularly on even strength, as the Lightning allowed just two power plays after conceding 11 in the first three games.
The Rangers have yet to lose three straight games in the postseason. They showcased their resiliency by overcoming a 3-1 series deficit in the first round against Pittsburgh, along with deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 in the second round against Carolina.
“It’s the best of three in the Eastern Conference final; it’s something to be excited about as a group,” New York defenseman Jacob Trouba said. “We’re in a pretty good spot here, and we’re going to go home and do what we can to win a game.”
New York could be without forwards Ryan Strome and Filip Chytil on Thursday. Strome (lower body) was injured Sunday and did not play after struggling through warmups, while Chytil (upper body) was hampered after taking a hit from Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman.
–Field Level Media