Rangers def. ‘rusty’ Lightning in Eastern opener

NEW YORK – The New York Rangers entered Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals with adrenaline still pumping from Monday’s Game 7 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. The Tampa Bay Lightning, by contrast, hit the ice for the first time since completing a sweep of the Florida Panthers on May 23.

Their respective firings were on display in the Rangers’ 6-2 win over the Lightning on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden to take a 1-0 series lead.

“There was a lot of clarity. [for us]. As we discussed, our team moved on. We had a day off, played a game and it really looked good for us tonight,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “Obviously, they were a little rusty tonight. They were not the same, being nine days off. It makes the difference”.

His counterpart, Jon Cooper, also noticed that rust.

“We might have gotten a little tired as the game went on. We hadn’t played a game in a long time here,” he said. “But that’s not an excuse on our part. I give the Rangers full marks on their game.”

Lightning players were also not looking to use the break as a defense due to their lack of defense.

“We certainly didn’t do our best,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “It is what it is. We’re not a group that’s going to use that as an excuse. We have to be better.”

The game was billed as a goalie duel between the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, who won playoff MVP honors for back-to-back Stanley Cup champions last summer, and the Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin, who is expected to win the Trophy. Vezina as the best player in the league. best goalkeeper this season.

Instead, Rangers scored more goals in one game than Vasilevskiy had delivered in his previous five games combined.

New York was on the Lightning from the opening moments of the game, as Chris Kreider scored on a Tampa Bay turnover just 1:11 into regulation for his ninth of the season. But Stamkos scored the equalizer at 7:18 of the first.

“The first goal sucks. But I think we recovered well,” Cooper said. “But I think there were things we did tonight that we didn’t do a lot of in the previous two rounds. The Rangers have some dynamic players. You give them an inch and they take a mile.”

In the second period, forward Frank Vatrano ran back to break up a run of odd men by Lightning and then hit a shot over Vasilevskiy to take the lead. Rayo responded again, just 42 seconds later, with a goal from Ondrej Palat. But the Rangers’ “Kid Line” hit twice in just over five minutes to put New York ahead for good. Filip Chytil scored his sixth and seventh of the playoffs, passing Vasilevskiy at 10:09 and then ending more than two minutes of offensive zone time for the Rangers with a quick shot past Vasilevskiy at 15:43.

The Rangers didn’t let up in the third, scoring 30 seconds into the period on a shot by Artemi Panarin and then scoring for the first time on the power play on Mika Zibanejad’s eighth goal of the playoffs.

“Turk has them going,” Cooper said of Gallant and his team. “They were unlucky on their way to where they are in the playoffs.”

Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said the Rangers are also a different team than the Lightning saw in the regular season.

“Yeah, a little bit. They’ve got a strong goalie, a good D-corps, some acquisitions that we haven’t seen on their jerseys,” he said.

The Lightning last faced the Rangers on March 19, before the NHL trade deadline. New York has since added forwards Andrew Copp and Tyler Motte, as well as defenseman Justin Braun. The Rangers also found some line combinations that have worked in the postseason, such as the “Kids Line.”

“You know, they’re rolling. After that big win against Carolina, they were confident going into tonight’s game. We expected that,” Hedman said.

Cooper also noted the differences in the Rangers, but said in the end it was still familiar names that made the difference in Game 1.

“They’ve made some additions. They’ve got a good team,” he said. “But it was still all the guys that have been here for a while that had their fingerprints on the record,” she said.

Some significant names were kept off the Lightning score sheet, including Nikita Kucherov, Hedman and Brandon Hagel. They didn’t look like the team that beat the Panthers in the second round. But Cooper said they’ve started the series off on the wrong foot before, and there’s no need to panic.

“It’s Game 1. We’ve been through this before. We win series when we lose the first game and we win series when we win the first game,” he said.

The second game is scheduled for Friday night in New York.


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