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New York Rangers smothering defense putting Lightning back on heels after two games

New York Rangers
New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) scores on Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) in the first period of Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals, Friday, June 3, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The New York Rangers have put Tampa Bay back on their heels through the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals. 

The Rangers’ 3-2 victory, was closer in comparison to Game 1, but did not tell the whole story of what was complete domination of the Lightning. A combination of self-inflicted turnovers and a gritty forecheck has seen the Blue Shirts go from the heavy underdog to driving the bus with a 2-0 series lead headed to Tampa for Game 3 on Sunday. 

For the Lightning, it was a shocking two games that saw them play some of their sloppiest hockey during their 10 series winning streak. 

Tampa Bay had just 77 giveaways in their first 11 playoff games. Last series against the Florida Panthers, their four-game total was only 32 combined giveaways. 

In the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final alone they have 50. 

“We just turned the puck over too much” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. “If you’re not going to manage the puck against good hockey teams, you’re playing with fire.”

While the Lightning have had issues with puck management, the Rangers have also totaled 25 takeaways over the first two games. 

Cooper still hasn’t been surprised by anything the Rangers have done.

“The Rangers work hard. It’s a staple of Turk’s (Gallant) teams. They play a pretty simple game and a lot of it is based on work ethic and they get on top of you, but it’s not like we haven’t played teams that do that.”

The two-time Stanley Cup Champion coach compared the current Rangers teams to past playoff experiences with the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins saying “when they get their opportunities they capitalize.”

The sentiment was shared with the Lightning players as well. 

“We haven’t executed the proper way that has gotten us here” said forward Steven Stamkos “We’ve talked about how they (Rangers) are a very skilled team and if you give them chances, they can make you pay.”

New York Rangers
New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) makes a save in the second period of Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning.(AP Photo/John Minchillo

“It’s been a struggle to make simple passes and puck management. It’s one of those things that we need to be better at,” Victor Hedman added. 

Throughout the contest, the young Rangers used their speed and quickness to get behind the experienced Lightning. It’s a credit to what their game-plan has come to. 

“I think just sticking to our game plan. Obviously, they’re a skilled team with a lot of experience in these playoffs, so I think it was just about managing that and trying to keep our game simple and stick to the game plan.” K’Andre Miller said. 

“I think we just tried to not fuel their offense and like I said I think we’re trying to play a little more from the middle out and keep them to the perimeter. When they do try to make those plays from the middle we’re there and try to go the other way.” said defenseman, Adam Fox 

Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant echoed the comments made by his defensemen.

“We say we play our best game when we forecheck hard and make them make mistakes. I mean everybody makes mistakes in this game and when we put pressure on them sometimes our D turns the puck over,” he said. 

With the Lightning facing a must-win in Sunday’s Game 3, the game-plan stays the same for both teams. 

For Tampa Bay, it all comes down to whether they are able to limit the turnovers and chances that they have given the Rangers through the first two games of this season. 

For more coverage of the Rangers and Lightning series, head to amNY.com.

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