The Tampa Bay Lightning roared back into the Eastern conference finals with a 6-2 win over the New York Rangers, led by a hat trick of goals from Tyler Johnson and three assists by Nikita Kucherov.
After struggling to dominate the pace and the shot distribution in the first game, the Lightning exploded in front of a stunned Madison Square Garden, breaking the streak of 15 games decided by just one goal the Rangers had in the postseason dating back to last year. They also put a serious dent into the confidence of those believing the Rangers are destined to repeat as Stanley Cup participants.
Things looked quite even in the first period. Johnson did score a shorthanded goal but the Rangers fired back through Chris Kreider, scoring on the power play. The momentum shifted back and for good once Johnson, scoring his 10th goal of this postseason, made the most of a Lightning-favored Power Play, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
Ben Bishop was actually the busier goalkeeper, but he had a good defensive stand in front of him. Henrik Lundqvist was far from his sharpest, making only 20 saves on 26 shots. The Rangers were still in good shape after the second period thanks to another Derek Stepan goal, his fifth of the postseason, but the third period was a Lightning explosion, scoring three goals, two of them on the Power Play.
After holding Tyler Johnson in check during the first game, the best player in this postseason was unstoppable in game 2. Johnson has taken his game to a whole new level over the last couple of seasons, but now, with his performances in the playoffs, he’s getting more widespread recognition after being one of the best kept secrets in hockey for quite some time.
The Rangers need to make this series about small plays and less about fast, open space hockey. They’re not built to keep up with the Lightning or come back from the kind of mistakes they made, allowing the Lightning to hit at them with incredible precision and cruelty. Home ice advantage doesn’t mean much, especially not to the Rangers, so that kind of approach, which is pretty much to live and die on bounces that go here and there, will work just fine away from home.