The New York Rangers finally got a look at what the Tampa Bay Lightning have been over the previous two seasons.
Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final saw the shorthanded Rangers — who were without Ryan Strome and saw Filip Chytil leave early — dominated for large portions of Tuesday night by the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions in a 3-1.
After taking the first two games at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers dropped both at Amalie Arena in Tampa to lose their series advantage and head back home tied at two games apiece.
“I’m hoping it’s going to be a homer series. That’s what it looks like so far,” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said. “We’re pretty good in our building. They’re pretty good in their building.”
In theory, that means Game 5 should see the series tip back toward the Blueshirts’ favor considering they outscored the Lightning 9-4 over Games 1 and 2.
That will certainly provide a bit of confidence for a Rangers team that had suddenly found themselves on the ropes amidst a relentless barrage of Lightning pressure.
“They better be calm, but they better go out and play harder,” Gallant continued. “It’s a two-out-of-three [now]. We have the home ice. But we’ve got to play better.”
“[We] won two at home, lost two on the road,” veteran forward Chris Kreider said. “That’s how a series is supposed to be in theory, right? Supposed to be able to hold serve, but certainly would have liked to have won one [in Tampa].”
Following Game 3’s heartbreaker in which the Blueshirts blew a 2-0 second-period lead and yielded the game-winning goal by Ondrej Palat with just 41.6 seconds left in regulation, Igor Shesterkin was beaten twice on his first 12 shots faced to put New York in a hole.
Aspects that they so meticulously executed in Games 1 and 2 disappeared in Game 4.
Pat Maroon was able to clean up a rebound from Shesterkin and hack his chance home 2:38 into the game while being given just enough space by the Rangers defense.
Nikita Kucherov then found himself alone at the Rangers’ blue line after a neutral-zone turnover, slotting home a breakaway chance through New York’s netminder’s wickets.
“It makes us more hungry and angrier,” Artemi Panarin, who scored the lone Rangers goal in Game 4, said. “Sometimes that’s good when you’ve lost. I think it’s just how we’ll react. I don’t think we’ve lost our confidence. Only be more hungry next game.”
Whether or not that will be enough to get by a Lightning team that finally seems as though it has found its legs remains to be unseen. There aren’t many teams in the NHL that can keep up with them when clicking on all cylinders — even without one of their most valuable forwards in Brayden Point.
But it’s a challenge the Rangers are relishing despite the two-game skid.
“We’re one of three teams left here. You expect their best. You want their best,” defenseman Jacob Trouba said. “And we want to show we can beat the best. We feel we’re an up-and-coming team. We’ve arrived. We want to play these games.”