TAMPA, Fla. — It turns out the New York Rangers haven’t cornered the market because they “don’t have to quit” in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Tampa Bay Lightning rebounded from a 2-0 deficit in the second half to win Game 3 3-2 at home Sunday night, cutting their lead in the Rangers’ Eastern Conference Finals to 2-1. Winger Ondrej Palat scored the decisive goal 42 seconds from time after a perfect pass from Nikita Kucherov, who counted all three Lightning goals.
“It wasn’t an ideal situation, but there’s no stopping in our group. We were 2-0 down in the series. It was pretty much all in the third,” said captain Steven Stamkos, whose power-play goal went 1:22 into the third 2-2 draw.
Stamkos ticked off what had worked for the Lightning in Game 3 that hadn’t worked in the first two games in New York: the 5v5 play was in their favor; 51 shots and 83 attempts on goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin, while Andrei Vasilevskiy made a strong performance of 28 saves; a penalty shootout that allowed two Rangers power-play goals but went big during a four-minute high-stick penalty against Kucherov in the third period; and finally a clutch target from Palat if they needed it.
“We’ve seen this from Palat for years. The quiet boy says nothing. All he does is give you everything he’s got on every shift. He has the ability to play this worker game with clerks, and that’s a great trait,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “He’s usually the third guy that’s talked about on the lines that he plays on. But he come through.”
The Rangers, whose social media marketing slogan was #NoQuitInNY this postseason, had an opportunity to potentially put the series on hold with a Game 3 win. Heading into Sunday, teams leading 3-0 in a best-of-seven series hold a series record of 198-4 (.980). Teams leading 3-0 at home in a best-of-seven hold a run record of 144-3 (.980).
“It’s not easy. You sit on the bench and you’re 2-0 in the game and 2-0 in the series. You can feel the momentum going the other way,” said Stamkos. “But that’s finding a way at this time of year. We’ve been doing it for a couple of years now and tonight was another example of finding a way just to win a game. We talked about that before the game : Want to push your way to a win tonight and whatever happens, happens. Just another brave effort tonight.”
Game 3 was scoreless after the first period and led into a wild second period.
The teams were playing 4v4 when Mika Zibanejad received an interference penalty. The Lightning had 1:32 of the 4-on-3 power play time – with Shesterkin making two saves and Rangers forward Barclay Goodrow hitting a shorthanded one from the post. But winger Corey Perry was called off for slashing the mask of Shesterkin, who threw his stick wildly at the end boards. Perry was furious as he entered the penalty area.
The teams then played 3v3 for 13 seconds and then 4v4 for 15 seconds as more players left the box. Rangers eventually went on the power play and 30 seconds later Zibanejad fired with a shot through Vasilevskiy for a 1-0 lead at 7:37 of the second period.
The Lightning took another penalty against Shesterkin at 8:23 of the second period when forward Riley Nash – playing in his first game since March 20 – jostled him on a shot on goal from Tampa. Again, the Rangers made the Lightning pay: Chris Kreider rebounded a Zibanejad shot to make it 2-0 at 9:44 of the second.
It was the 10th goal of the season for Zibanejad and Kreider.
The Blitz crowded Shesterkin’s crease during Game 3, which didn’t sit well with Rangers coach Gerard Gallant. “It scares me more than him. I don’t like it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a big part of it. Hopefully when we talk to the (acting) manager tomorrow they will take care of it because it wasn’t right,” he said.
Cooper pushed back.
“I don’t think they could have called it tighter. What was there, three penalties for goalkeeper interference?” he asked as Rangers forward Frank Vatrano joined Perry and Nash to be called off for it. “Is part of this game netfront? Yes. Is that the case in our schedule? [bowl] people over? no In the first, we’re in a 4v3 powerplay. We got rid of it. Trust me, we’re not trying to hit the goalie. I think we were more angry than Rangers at that point.”
Tampa Bay got back a power play of their own when defenseman Jacob Trouba went into the box for interference. Kucherov scored with a slam to Shesterkin’s left at 10:50 for his second goal of the series and sixth place in the playoffs.
After the second period ended 2-2, the Lightning connected the game – what else? — a power play goal as Trouba came into the box for the second straight game, this time to save. Perry made a cross-ice pass to Stamkos for a one-timer at 1:22 for his sixth of the playoffs.
The Lightning killed a four-minute power play after Kucherov’s high stick. Then it was Palat who ended the game with the first goal on equal strength, scoring his 10th playoff goal, winning the game, and passing former teammate Tyler Johnson for most in franchise history.
In the process, Palat brought his team back into the series ahead of Game 4 on Tuesday night.
“You either buckle or you go out and do it,” Stamkos said. “Did we expect to score with 40 seconds left? no We were excited to equalize and thought it would go into overtime. That can be a big boost for our group.”