The New York Rangers will aim to push the two-time defending Stanley Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning to the brink of elimination Sunday afternoon when they play Game 3 of their Eastern Conference finals at Tampa, Fla.
Up 2-0 in the series, the Rangers have every reason to keep their guard up because they know what can happen. They trailed the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in a best-of seven first-round series before rallying to win the final three games.
New York also overcame series deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 to dispatch the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games during the conference semifinals.
The Rangers have gotten the early jump in the conference finals, extending their home winning streak to eight games by taking the first two contests.
“We heard all year that (we weren’t) going to have playoff success and we’ve said it all year,” New York defenseman Adam Fox said following the team’s 3-2 victory in Game 2 over the Lightning on Friday. “The belief in the room is high. The outside opinion doesn’t really affect anyone.”
Fox notched two assists on Friday and Mika Zibanejad scored the decisive goal to extend their respective point streaks to seven games. Fox has two goals and 10 assists during his run, while Zibanejad has six and five, respectively.
Hart and Vezina Trophy finalist Igor Shesterkin made 29 saves to improve to 9-3 with a 2.08 goals-against average and .939 save percentage in his past 12 games.
“I can’t imagine (how many) times people have said nice things about Igor bailing us out at this point in the year,” Rangers defenseman K’Andre Miller said. “(Shesterkin is) unreal. You see it every game, the number of highlight-reel saves.
“Obviously we have a lot of trust in him and try to let him do his thing. We try to limit the chances that he sees, block shots and doing those little things, but Shesty’s Shesty. He’s going to stop the puck.”
Filip Chytil (five goals, one assist) and Chris Kreider (three goals, two assists) are carrying four-game point streaks into Sunday’s contest.
While New York is riding high, Tampa Bay finds itself in relatively unfamiliar territory. The Lightning have lost two consecutive postseason games for the first time since 2019, when they unceremoniously were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in a first-round series.
“You get frustrated when you lose a couple,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “There’s no doubt. How can you not be? I’d be (angry) if the guys weren’t down or frustrated about losing two.
“It’s about how you respond. That’s the one thing with the group, they’ve responded.”
Nikita Kucherov collected a goal and an assist on Friday. The former Hart Trophy recipient has a team high-tying five goals to go along with club-best totals in assists (12) and points (17) in 13 playoff games.
The series now shifts to the Sunshine State, with the Lightning boasting a four-game winning streak on home ice.
“We can’t hang our hats just because we are going to home ice, but it’s going to be great to be in front of our fans and try and get the next game,” Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said.
–Field Level Media