Their turnaround in the Eastern Conference Final continued with a thorough 4-1 victory against the New York Rangers in Game 4 at Amalie Arena on Tuesday.
After losing the first two games on the road, the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions have rebounded with two wins at home to even the best-of-7 series. Game 5 is in New York on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“The urgency has been up obviously,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “We come back in front of our home fans and we played two pretty solid hockey games. So, we’ve got ourselves squared up in the series. It’s great. It’s much better than the position we were in a couple days ago, but this is where it gets down to the really tough stuff, is these next couple games.
“We’ve got to go on the road, and we’ve got to find a way to win a game in their barn.”
That is still a daunting task. New York has won its past eight games at home, with its only loss in the Stanley Cup Playoffs coming in triple overtime in Game 1 of the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. But the Lightning are now feeling a lot better about themselves and their game than they did following a 3-2 loss in Game 2 on Friday at Madison Square Garden.
[RELATED: Complete Rangers vs. Lightning series coverage]
Tampa Bay has flipped the series by returning to the stifling defensive game that carried it through a second-round sweep of the Florida Panthers. It took the Lightning some time to find it again following the nine-day layoff between the series, and the past two games have shown a team more in sync breaking out of its zone and defending when the puck is in its own end.
“I think it starts in the D zone and neutral zone — coming back for the [defensemen], supporting them in the neutral zone and getting our five-man rush and the [defensemen] are jumping up in the play,” said forward Pat Maroon, whose rebound goal got Tampa Bay on the board 2:38 into the first period. “So, we’re getting back to our speed game here and finding ways to get pucks behind them and go to work like we used to.”
New York hasn’t scored a 5-on-5 goal since Mika Zibanejad got one on a 2-on-1 at 1:21 of the third period of Game 2. Each of the Rangers’ goals in the Lightning’s 3-2 victory in Game 3 came on the power play, and Artemi Panarin scored the lone goal Tuesday during a 6-on-4 with Alex Killorn serving a holding penalty and goalie Igor Shesterkin on the bench for an extra attacker.
“Clearly, we had some puck management issues and, however you want to explain that, we weren’t tired, we were just making some poor decisions,” coach Jon Cooper said. “If you want to move on, you have to tighten that stuff up and we have. Are we perfect? No. But are we giving ourselves a chance? We are.
“Now, we’ve just got to go do it in their building.”
In addition to stay-at-home defenseman Zach Bogosian making an unexpected dazzling rush to the net to set up Maroon’s goal, the Lightning again got standout performances from their top players. Forward Nikita Kucherov followed up this three-point effort (one goal, two assists) in Game 3, with a breakaway goal 13:07 into the second period that increased the lead to 2-0.
Video: Palat, Vasilevskiy lift Lightning over Rangers in Gm4
Stamkos scored for the second straight game and third time in the series to make it 3-0 at 4:56 of the third period. Ondrej Palat built off scoring the winning goal with 42 seconds left in Game 3 by getting a goal and two assists in Game 4, which included a pass to spring Kucherov’s breakaway, a shot that led to Stamkos’ rebound goal and an empty-net goal with 8.7 seconds remaining.
And there was also goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who heard the chants of “Igor’s better!” in New York and responded by making 34 saves Tuesday. He has stopped 62 of 65 shots in the past two games.
“He’s getting his mojo back,” Cooper said. “If anybody in this layoff got hurt, it was probably him because now you’re taken out of your rhythm. But now he’s got some games under his belt.”
With two wins under their belts, the Lightning head back to New York with the renewed confidence of a team that won the Stanley Cup the past two seasons and believes it can win it again. The Rangers pushed hard in the first two games, forcing the Lightning to push back the past two.
Tampa Bay is determined to keep pushing in Game 5.
“Absolutely we’ve been desperate the last couple games,” Stamkos said. “We knew how important they were to get back in the series and we’ve done it, but we can’t sit on our hands now and be happy with that. We’ve got to keep moving forward.”
Source : NHL News