Rangers make major early statement, blow out Lightning in Game 1 of Eastern Conference Final

Rangers Filip Chytil Lightning Game 1
New York Rangers’ Filip Chytil celebrates goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period of Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals Wednesday, June 1, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Any concern about the New York Rangers facing a top-tier goalie for the first time this postseason quickly dissipated — and in emphatic fashion, too. 

A three-goal second period, including two from Filip Chytil, lifted the Blueshirts to a Game 1 victory over the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-2, on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Led by Chytil and two points from Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin (1G, 1A each), New York’s staggering goal output was more than what superstar Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed in the entire second round against the Florida Panthers, conceding only three in the four-game sweep.

In fact, the two-time Cup winner and 2019 Vezina Trophy recipient allowed just four goals on his previous 185 shots faced entering the series. 

He gave up four in 23 shots through 36 minutes of action.

The Rangers could not have dreamed of a better start to blow the roof off Madison Square Garden to wrench early momentum from the Lightning.

Just 1:11 into the game, Zibanejad’s fake opened up the space down the right wing to set up Chris Kreider with a lethal one-timer to beat the great Vasilevskiy stick-side on the first shot he saw to put New York in front. 

It was the second-fastest goal ever scored by the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals, just nine seconds slower than Derick Brassard’s opener in Game 3 in 2015 against the very same Lightning.

Kreider became just the third Rangers player in franchise history to score an Eastern Conference Final goal in both his 20s and 30s (Esa Tikkanen, Rick Nash) while Zibanejad became the first Blueshirt since Wayne Gretzky in 1997 to record 20 or more points in a single postseason.

But these aren’t the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Carolina Hurricanes that New York was trying to keep down — and Tampa certainly wasn’t shaken by the ear-splitting start

It took just 6:08 after Kreider’s opener for the Lightning to strike through one of their superstars, Steven Stamkos, on a one-timed rocket of a slapshot from above the right face-off circle off a drop pass from Jan Rutta.

While Shesterkin will likely be the Rangers’ only chance of an upset, he had no chance on Stamkos’ bullet, which whizzed into the top corner blocker side with perfection.

Stamkos had a golden opportunity for a second when the puck found him outside a scramble with Shesterkin out of position, but his shot was blocked by a sliding Jacob Trouba to keep things tied going into the second. 

While Tampa monopolized possession during the first half of the second period, it was the Rangers who got back in front.

After a miscommunication near the top of the zone between Adam Fox and Frank Vatrano left the puck sitting between the two with acres of space around them.

It was Vatrano who pounced on it and from a stand-still, sent a wrist shot that surprisingly floated past the outstretched blocker of Vasilevskiy and into the back of the net — a rare softy allowed by the resolute star 7:50 into the second.

The Lightning was first denied an instant equalizer when Victor Hedman’s low wrister rang off the post. However, at the 8:32 mark — just 42 seconds later, Ondrej Palat redirected a centering feed from Stamkos past Shesterkin to put Tampa back on level footing. 

But back came the Rangers and their ever-rising “Kid Line” just 1:37 later — Chytil one-timing a pass from behind the net from Kaapo Kakko, who was allowed to work behind the net into open space to get the assist off with little issue.

After the Rangers sustained nearly a minute and a half of relentless pressure in the Lightning zone, Chytil struck again when he worked his way open through a tired Tampa defense and fired another one-timer, this time from K’Andre Miller, past a sprawling Vasilevskiy to double the host’s advantage. 

Panarin kept New York’s pedal to the metal when he put the Rangers up 5-2 just 30 seconds into the third with another odd-man rush wrister that left Vasilevskiy with no chance. 

Zibanejad got the Rangers’ power play going at the 6:06 mark of the third — just 5:36 after Panarin’s goal — when he roofed a feed from Panarin from the left circle; continuing the ever-so-clear gameplan of shooting high on the Tampa netminder.

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