NEW YORK — Less than 10 minutes after the horn sounded on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 6–2 Game 2 victory over the New York Rangers, a frustrated Henrik Lundqvist sat in the corner of his team’s locker room.
The goaltender slammed his water bottle into the trash can before tugging off his pads and tossing them into the bag in front of him. He pulled at the seemingly never-ending tape on his skates, unraveling it quickly.
Though alone when he first started undressing, a large crowd had gathered around him by the time he stood to zip up his blue Rangers jacket. Lundqvist tugged at his laces before finally sitting to face the media.
Less than two minutes after he sat down he was done answering questions, but he made his point clear: “If you don't play smart, you’re not going to win. Taking that many penalties against a team that has a really good power play, it’s just not going to work.”
The Lightning, who were just one-for-four with the man advantage in Saturday afternoon’s Game 1 loss, went three for six on Monday night, getting goals from Tyler Johnson, Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn. Tampa Bay also tallied multiple power-play goals in each Game 2 of its previous two series, against the Red Wings in the opening round and the Canadiens in the second. Both were victories.
“I thought tonight we were able to get the shots and get the opportunities, a couple of big goals there,” said Johnson, who scored a hat trick on Monday.
Added Stamkos: “To get as many as we did on the power play is a confidence boost. It was a big part of the game the way it was going tonight and we took advantage of it.”
After the Lightning gifted New York with three power plays in the game's first 8:15, one of which allowed the Rangers to tie the score at 1–1 on a goal by Chris Kreider at 8:50, the Blueshirts got careless. Kreider's roughing minor at 10:00 was offset 31 seconds later when Tampa Bay's Ryan Callahan was called for tripping, but Derek Stepan gave the advantage right back at 11:00 when he drew a similar call. Fifteen seconds later, Johnson scored his second goal of the game, giving the Lightning a lead they never relinquished.
Though New York later entered the third period down by only 3–2, a parade of Blueshirts to the penalty box—Stepan (tripping), Derick Brassard (high sticking), Tanner Glass (roughing, 10-minute misconduct)—led to two more power play goals by Tampa Bay as the Lightning pulled away.
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Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh shared Lundqvist’s frustration. “Our guys better figure it out quickly here and realize that stupid, selfish penalties are going to cost us against this team,” he said. “[The Lightning] have too much skill. Shooting ourselves in the foot from the very first minutes there is not going to give us a chance to win.
“It’s uncharacteristic. Those are penalties we can control. It’s not because of the refs. They are calling it tighter a little bit for sure, but at the end of the day there’s a lot of stick penalties. [We are] just killing ourselves and you are not going to beat teams like this when we are doing that.”
Lundqvist’s play in the game was also uncharacteristic, given the way the veteran goaltender has performed of late. It was the first time all postseason that the Rangers have lost by more than one goal, and the first time this postseason that Lundqvist has given up more than four. He entered Monday on a four-game winning streak, with a 1.38 goals against average and a .955 save percentage (128 saves on 134 shots) during that time frame. The six goals he gave up on Monday were the most since he allowed five to the Lightning on Dec. 1. This was the fifth time this season that Lundqvist gave up five or more, and three of those times came against Tampa Bay.
“A lot of good things we did in the first game we were missing today,” said Lundqvist, who stopped 23 of 24 shots in Game 1. “I felt we worked hard but I don’t think we were very smart. [Taking] penalties, losing the puck in the wrong area—it’s something we have to correct and do a lot better in the next game.”
Now, the series will move to Tampa tied 1–1, and Lundqvist said in order to move on, “You just have to wipe it clean.”
This season, Lundqvist has rebounded well after poor outings. The Lightning beat the Rangers three times during the regular season, scoring four, five and five against Lundqvist, but he bounced back each time, giving up zero, two and three goals in the Rangers’ respective next games and earned a win in each contest.
“It’s one game. It’s a tied series; we’re going down to Tampa,” Lundqvist said. “There were a lot of good things tonight, we played with good speed, but a lot comes down to making good decisions with the puck on the blue lines.”
This loss was not all on Lundqvist. McDonagh noted the “sloppiness” in the Rangers’ play, saying, “It’s embarrassing. There are a lot of things you want to say right now but talking doesn’t do much. We continued to be undisciplined; we continued to not play hard in front of our net.”
When asked how he thought the Rangers would respond after a few players communicated they “were pretty upset about the effort,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said he was “confident that we're going to respond the right way. We always have.”
It was a totally different feel in the other locker room, and Lightning coach Jon Cooper gave credit to his team’s “will and determination” for being the difference in the game.
“We were much more physical,” Cooper said. “Where in Game 1, we played not to get touched, tonight we were getting dirty. I thought it just kind of changed the complexion for us. "It was ultimately our will that was different.”