(Photo via New York Times)
By Jake Ricker
The Lightning stumbled out of the gate In game 1 and wanted to avoid that again. This team had yet to lose back to back games for the last three postseasons but their toughest opponent yet was looking to change that. And while they looked better overall their effort still came up short. The Lightning now find themselves in a 2-0 hole heading back home after a tough loss in game 2.
The Lightning got off to a much better start in this game, picking up some early chances but, more importantly, not letting the Rangers on the board early. Pat Maroon and Ryan Reaves then started to throw some shoves at each other's way. The officials decided to try and shut it down quickly by giving a penalty to just Reaves sending the Lighting to the power play. Despite the power play going through a slump, the Lighting wasted no time as Kucherov rifled one from the right circle and gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead.
The Rangers pushed back quickly, though, and just a few minutes later, Hagel blocked an initial shot as K'Andre Miller picked up the rebound and fired it home to tie the game at one. Now with the game tied, the Rangers had the momentum and began to make a strong push. The Lightning then constantly found themselves on the penalty kill throughout the period. Luckily the PK unit and Vasilevskiy were ready and shut down the Ranger's power play.
Despite all the successful kills, the Rangers continued to pick up momentum, and the Lightning started to get sloppy. With just under three minutes reaming in the first period, the Rangers cashed in. On a great shot pass from Adam fox, Kaapo Kakko deflected the puck past Vasilevskiy to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. The Lighting would then head into the first intermission, trailing by one and their backs to the wall.
Things only got worse for the Lighting in the second period, but now Vasilevskiy started to struggle as well. The Rangers continued to play with the momentum creating quality chances and sustained offensive zone pressure. Early on in the period, Vasilevskiy made the initial save but then lost the puck as it rolled towards the back of the net. Luckily Corey Perry was able to get his hand on it and give the puck back to Vasilevskiy to cover.
The Lighting would also continue to head back to the penalty box, giving the Rangers every chance to take a two-goal lead. However, the Lighting were able to hold them off and keep them within one. On the other end of the Ice, Igor Shesterkin was locked in and easily turned away any opportunity the Lighting had.
Rangers fans were thrilled with the team's defense and sustained pressure, and, with the building rocking, it was hard to believe the Lighting only trailed by one. The Lighting finally started to get some looks on the net in the final minute of the period and, for the first time, held the puck in the offensive zone. Shesterkin was still on his game though and the Lightning would head into the finally 20 minutes still trailing by one.
After a late push by the Lightning in the second many fans were hoping that would continue in the third. The Rangers had other plans, though, as just a minute and 20 seconds into the period Zibanejab capitalized off a Kucherov turnover and fired a puck into the back of the net, giving the Rangers a 3-1 lead. The crowd was once again on their feet, and the Rangers were not ready to give the Lighting anything. That's exactly what they did.
Frustration began to set in for the Lighting as their play only got sloppier, and they continued to make poor choices. Playing from behind, they also continued to take penalties, but the PK unit was one good thing about this game, and they kept the win within reach. As time began to wind down, the Lightning knew they needed to get something quickly, so with under 4 minutes to go, Cooper pulled Vasilevskiy and hoped for a spark.
Luckily the Lighting weren't quite done as a few minutes into Vasilevskiy being on the bench, Nick Paul made a move in front and got one past Shesterkin to pull the Lightning back within one. Vasilevskiy was once again pulled, and they pushed for the tying goal. Stamkos got a couple of great chances, but Shesterkin made some huge saves and helped the Rangers hold on to their lead until the clock hit zeros. The Lightning had now lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2019 and will head back to Tampa down 2-0.
There were a lot of issues in this game. Vasilevskiy wasn't himself, the Lightning defense has continued to struggle, and the Rangers are playing lights out hockey. The Rangers did what they needed to do, winning both home games. Now the Lightning needs to take care of business at home and try to send things back to New York tied up. In order to do that, though, there needs to be adjustments. It will be interesting to see if the Lightning continues to go 11/7 or if they change things up. Nash, who has been with the team since the start of the playoffs, is a great shutdown player and just might be exactly what the Lightning need.
Aside from personnel changes, the Lightning need to limit their turnovers and get more traffic in front of Igor at the basic level. They have also struggled to put up sustained offensive zone time, take away that momentum from the Rangers and make them the ones that are taking the penalties.
The series is far from over, but the Lightning need to make a change now before it's too late. But give credit where credit is due. The Rangers are now 5-0 against the Lightning this year, and they will look to continue that streak in game 3.
Media's Three Stars:
3. K'Andre Miller (NYR)
2.Frank Vatrano (NYR)
1. Adam Fox (NYR)
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