Monday, March 27

Lightning-Rangers Game 2 report card: Streak ends, series goes on

Turns out, history won’t win this series.

The NHL-record 17 straight times the Lightning won playoff games immediately following a loss didn’t mean a thing in the 18th.

Whether they can be beaten four times over seven games remains to be seen.

We know this much: The Rangers aren’t simply going to bend to their will. So if the Lightning hope to survive the conference final and continue their quest for a third straight Stanley Cup, they’re going to have to outwork them on the ice.

And they’ve dug themselves quite a hole.

After a 3-2 loss in which the Rangers attacked them with speed and took advantage of their turnovers, the Lightning find themselves two losses from elimination heading to Game 3 Sunday in Tampa.

Two games into the series that will send the winner to the Stanley Cup Final, we are left with far more questions than answers:

Did the Lightning lose their edge after so many days between series?

Are they trying to do too much, pinching too often, making too many east-west passes?

Are they paying the price for three consecutive long postseasons? For a goaltender who has not missed a playoff game during that stretch? For a system that takes a tremendous toll on their bodies?

Do they need to go back to playing 12 forwards and six defensemen against the younger, fresher Rangers? Do they need that extra forward to be Brayden Point?

Is the strategy of playing defense first, taking away the middle of the ice and staying patient taking the jump out of their game? Do they need to push harder on offense?

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Have the Rangers found a weakness in goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy?

The Lightning seemed to find a few answers after pulling Vasilevskiy for an extra attacker over the final four minutes.

They got pucks behind New York’s defense, won battles and got shots to the net. Nick Paul scored to bring Tampa Bay within a goal, and it came within inches of tying the score during the frenzied final minute.

But ultimately, it was too little, too late.

Two more games like this, and they will lose their shot at history.

Grade: C-minus

Here’s how we graded the rest of the Lightning’s performance in Game 2:

Why not both?

Lightning center Ross Colton (79) top yells at Rangers right wing Ryan Reaves (75) as referees hold back Lightning left wing Pat Maroon (14) during the first period.
Lightning center Ross Colton (79) top yells at Rangers right wing Ryan Reaves (75) as referees hold back Lightning left wing Pat Maroon (14) during the first period. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The Lightning got an early power play when the Rangers’ Ryan Reaves was penalized for slashing Pat Maroon after the players jostled in the faceoff circle 2 1/2 minutes into the game.

it took the Lightning just 10 seconds to take advantage, as Nikita Kucherov scored on a wrist shot from above the right circle that deflected off Ryan Lindgren’s stick up over Igor Shesterkin’s glove.

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Reaves got his stick between Maroon’s legs, and Maroon responded with a punch to the face. But only Reaves was sent to the penalty box for an incident that had no bearing on the game and which ordinarily would result in either both or neither being sent off.

So, why just Reaves? ESPN NHL rules analyst Dave Jackson explained after the period that singling out one player for punishment helps to avoid similar scrums the rest of the game, something the remaining 40 minutes bore out.

Grade: H, for huh

Not-so-heady play

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman had a rough first period, going minus-1 and contributing to another Rangers scoring chance as Tampa Bay fell behind 2-1.

An errant Hedman pass to Jan Rutta was picked off by Artemi Panarin, who beat Hedman down the ice on a breakaway and got off a shot from in close that Vasilevskiy stopped.

Later in the period, Hedman got caught with his stick out of the passing lane as Adam Fox threaded a pass from the left circle between Hedman and Rutta to Kaapo Kakko at the right post for New York’s second goal.

Hedman also was on the ice for Mika Zibanejad’s game-winner in the third — which resulted from a Nikita Kucherov turnover — to finish at minus-2.

The Lightning need better from the 2020 Conn Smythe winner.

Grade: D

Hanging on

Lightning right wing Corey Perry (10), top, reaches for the puck as goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) and defenseman Victor Hedman (77) look on during the second period.
Lightning right wing Corey Perry (10), top, reaches for the puck as goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) and defenseman Victor Hedman (77) look on during the second period. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Down a goal, the Lightning appeared on the verge of losing their grip on the game during a second period in which they were outshot 14-10.

The trouble started early, as an Alexis Lafrenière shot hit defenseman Cal Foote in the shoulder, then clanged off the right post.

A Tyler Motte shot got behind Vasilevskiy before a sliding Corey Perry swatted the puck back underneath his goaltender.

Ryan McDonagh later blocked a pass from low in the left circle to break up a 3-on-1 following an Erik Cernak turnover.

Grade: S, for shaky

Springing a leak

Vasilevskiy has been a rock in goal over the past three postseasons, particularly in games immediately following a loss.

But Friday, he was showing signs of wear.

Vasilevskiy had his first scare on the Rangers’ first shot, as Panarin’s breakaway attempt leaked behind him before the goaltender reached back to cover the puck.

K’Andre Miller’s goal, which tied the score at 1 six minutes into the game, was a shot Vasilevskiy should have been able to stop. Brandon Hagel blocked Miller’s initial shot, but the puck kicked back to Miller in the high slot. Vasilevskiy had a clear view of the rebound attempt, but it still beat him under the glove.

In the third, Zibanejad beat Vasilevskiy stickside on a wrist shot from the left circle. It was the fifth of the nine goals the Rangers have scored in the series that was scored on the blocker side.

Vasilevskiy did stop 25 of the 28 shots he faced and all 14 in the second period, but he gave up way too many second chances and was outplayed by Shesterkin for the second straight game.

Grade: C-plus

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