Wednesday May 20th, 2015

There’s no way around it, really. The Rangers stunk up the joint in that 6–2 loss to the Lightning in Game 2. They were too slow. They treated their chances too cavalierly. There were too many “stupid and selfish” penalties (so labeled by captain Ryan McDonagh). Their defensive coverage was a comedy of errors.

But all that buffoonery didn’t cost New York the series. In the grand scheme of things, it was just one bad loss. And this group has bounced back from plenty of those.

It’s fair to wonder though how the Rangers will respond, whether they can go on the road and ramp it up for a crucial Game 3 against a Tampa Bay team that’s deeper, faster and far more dangerous than the two clubs that New York faced in rounds 1 and 2. This much is certain: The Rangers sure can’t afford another effort like the one they delivered on Monday night.

There’s no reason to worry about Henrik Lundqvist. Even after allowing a career-high six goals—maybe especially after allowing a career-high six goals—he can be counted on to return to form.

If only New York could be sure that the rest of the problems revealed in that loss could resolve themselves so easily.

NHL
Lundqvist, Rangers can't stop Lightning power play in Game 2 loss

The discipline issue is front and center. The Rangers held the edge in play early in the game before the parade to the penalty box jammed a stick in their spokes. It’s one thing to pledge to be smarter tonight, but first New York has to prove it can keep pace with the Lightning so that it isn’t not forced into the same restraining fouls it committed in Game 2.

It’ll be a big problem if the Rangers can’t keep up. Their penalty kill is leaking goals, allowing Tampa to convert on four of 10 chances through the first two games, including three of six in Game 2. The Bolts scored the game-changing fourth goal early in the third period just seconds after Derek Stepan got out of the box and while the PK unit was still in scramble mode.

That’s not an aberration, either. Tampa Bay scored four goals in 12 power-play chances against New York in three regular-season games, all of which were won by the Lightning. It sure looks like they’ve got the Rangers’ penalty kill figured out.

New York’s defense hasn’t met the challenge of containing Tampa’s top scorers. Tyler Johnson scored three goals on Monday, including a huge shorty in the first period. The other two were created when the 5' 9" forward went fearlessly to the net, something the Rangers’ blueliners failed to prevent over and over again. And Johnson wasn’t the only one who was getting in Lundqvist’s grill. Steven Stamkos now has three goals in his last four games—his last one coming when he found space down low and deflected a shot past Lundqvist.

NHL
My Town, My Team: Boomer Esiason on his lifelong Rangers obsession

The Lightning are not just getting good chances in this series. They’re getting unmolested chances. While they are flowing and switching off, New York is blowing coverages and allowing too many prime chances.

To the Rangers’ credit they have generated a few of those chances themselves, but that’s where the real challenge lies in Game 3: finally making something of them. That’s not going to be easy against Ben Bishop and a Tampa Bay defense that did a nice job using its size advantage in the first two contests.

All eyes will be on Martin St. Louis in this one. The former Bolts captain is sure to get a rough ride from the fans, who’ll be more than happy to remind him of his zero-for-the-playoffs streak. Guys like Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast need to start cashing in on their opportunities as well.

But the real pressure to perform falls on Rick Nash. There’s no faulting his effort, his desire or his two-way commitment in these playoffs. The guy is bringing everything a scorer is supposed to provide when the puck’s not going into the net off his stick. At this point though, New York needs more than a good try. The Rangers need the man who scored 42 goals in the regular season to start lighting the lamp on a regular basis. They need results.

You know the old chestnut: For a team to win in the playoffs, its best players have to be its best players. So far, Tampa’s stars have delivered. New York’s haven’t.

And no one’s forgotten how things turned out when that happened last year.

The numbers game

NHL
The Late Show: The white-knuckle glory of overtime in the NHL playoffs

• The Blackhawks have played the last four triple-overtime postseason games, including one this year (Game 4 vs. the Predators in the first round), one last year (Game 1 vs. the Blues in the first round) and one in 2013 (Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals vs. the Bruins). They’ve won three of them and are now 53-41-2 all-time in playoff overtime games, including a 6-3-1 record in ones that have gone to three OTs. The Hawks have also won two 3-OT games in the same postseason for the first time in their history and are the first NHL club to do it since the Ducks in the 2003.

• Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford's 60 saves in Game 2 vs. the Ducks set a franchise postseason record in the expansion era (1967 to present) and gave him 13 OT playoff wins, the most of any active goalie. He still has a ways to go to catch all-time leader Patrick Roy (40) but is within striking distance of Martin Brodeur (16) and Billy Smith (16).

• While Game 2 was the longest match in Blackhawks history (116:12), the Ducks’ franchise mark stands at 140:48 (April 24, 2003 vs. the Stars in the second round).

Hot links

• Tim Panaccio says these two players will be the prime beneficiaries with Dave Hakstol as the new coach in Philadelphia.

• Two first-round picks could make this team one of the centers of attention at the upcoming draft.

• They won’t win the Stanley Cup, but Eric Duhatschek says this team is the off-season champ.

• The Lightning have a playoff theme song. It’s exactly as cheesy as you'd expect it would be.

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