Rangers looking to rebound against resilient Lightning
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Resilience is one of the keys to any team's success, especially in the NHL playoffs.
The Tampa Bay Lightning showed it in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, and now it's the New York Rangers' turn to respond yet again.
''As a coach, you've got to make adjustments in some areas, and you've got to push buttons. For these guys to keep such a high intensity rate for the whole playoffs, and that goes for every team, it's a hard thing to do,'' Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Tuesday after arriving home from the team's 6-2 victory that evened the series at 1-1.
Tyler Johnson's hat trick and another impressive performance by goaltender Ben Bishop bolster confidence heading into the next two games, Wednesday and Friday, at Amalie Arena.
''It's nothing magical I'm doing,'' Cooper added. ''Usually in these situations, our goalie's bailing us out and our best players become our best players. That's the secret.
''Those guys bind together and will us to victory. When we've had a hiccup, that's probably been the reason why we've stopped whatever losing streak we've had.''
The Rangers dropped Game 2 after winning the series opener 2-1, but there's no reason to believe they'll panic.
In addition to compiling the league's best road record this season, they have goalie Henrik Lundqvist and a penchant for thriving under postseason pressure.
New York has split the first two games in eight of its past 12 playoff series. The Rangers are 6-1 in those series during that span.
In the Eastern Conference semifinals, New York rallied from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the Washington Capitals.
''We've got another challenge in front of us, both defensively and offensively. We've been able to do it before,'' Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.
''Past doesn't necessarily dictate the future, but I have a lot of confidence in this group that we can raise our level of play. There's no doubt Tampa has done that. Now we need to do the same.''
The Lightning feel one key to Game 3 will be getting off to a fast start, much the way they did Monday night in New York.
Although they had the NHL's top home record during the regular season, they've already lost three times at Amalie Arena during the playoffs.
One of those losses came in a listless performance following a big road win, dropping them into a 3-2 series hole against Detroit in the first round.
Although they bounced back to win the next two games and advance, forward Ondrej Palat said the team learned a valuable lesson: you can't relax just because you're comfortable with circumstances.
''We need to play every game like it's a Game 7,'' said Palat, who teams with Johnson and Nikita Kucherov to form Tampa Bay's ''Triplets'' line that's scored 21 of the Lightning's 41 goals this postseason. ''Hopefully we're going to do that (Wednesday) and for the rest series.''
Lundqvist is 19-11 with a 1.77 goals-against average, .934 save percentage and four shutouts in 30 games the Rangers have played following a loss since the start of the 2012 playoffs.
New York captain Ryan McDonagh called the Rangers performance in Game 2, which included yielding a short-handed goal and failing to capitalize on more scoring opportunities themselves, embarrassing.
He didn't back off the assessment when he spoke with reporters at the team hotel on Tuesday night.
''I'd never seen the group play like that. It was a lot of things we could control,'' McDonagh said, adding there was no more room for performances like that if the Rangers expect to win the series.
''We're got to give ourselves a better chance than that,'' the defenseman said.
Meanwhile, the Rangers concede they need to find a way to generate more offense. They've scored 28 goals in 14 playoff games.
It's difficult, though, to be overly critical, considering what the team has been able to accomplish thanks to Lundqvist and a stifling defense.
''You always want to score more as a team. But there's probably a lot of teams that would trade places with us right now where we are,'' New York's Martin St. Louis said.
''It's about winning games. We've found a way to win games to be in a position where we're three wins from the Stanley Cup final,'' St. Louis added. ''Do we want to score more goals? Absolutely. ... But it's easier said than done.''