Rangers blow chance to take a commanding lead of Conference Final

The New York Rangers came into Sunday afternoons Game three matchup riding a four-game winning streak. But they didn’t just win their last four contests; they played arguably their best hockey all season during those seven days. After taking the first two from the two-time defending champions in New York, Game three was a must-win for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Not only did the Rangers have a 2-0 lead in the series, but they also had a 2-0 lead halfway through the game. New York jumped out to a two-goal lead midway through the second period on the heels of a penalty-riddled second frame. Mika Zibanejad continued his hot scoring touch and notched his tenth goal of the playoffs and minutes later collected his 14th assist on a Chris Kreider goal. The two power-play goals would be all the Rangers’ offense could muster.

The Tampa special teams matched New York’s and scored two of their own power-play goals. A minute after Kreider’s goal gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead, Nikita Kucherov got Tampa on the board with his own power-play goal.

New York’s 2-1 lead was erased shortly after Jacob Trouba took one of his three penalties on the day thirty-seven seconds into the 3rd period. The Rangers played the entirety of the final frame on their heels, but Kucherov gave them a prime opportunity to seize control of the game with a four-minute double-minor high sticking penalty. With nine minutes to go in the game, the Rangers’ power play would have the ice for four crucial minutes to try and get the go-ahead goal. But 90 seconds into the four-minute man-advantage, Jacob Trouba took his 3rd penalty, negating the Rangers’ best chance to go ahead 3-0 in the series. Ondrej Palat would score the game-winner with 47 seconds left.

Both Russian netminders showed up in this game. The first period was exactly what everyone thought the series would be and showcased the two best goalies in the world, turning aside prime scoring opportunities.

After a rocky start to the series, Andrei Vasilevskiy rebounded nicely, turning aside 28 of 30 shots. Igor Shesterkin did much of the same on the other end of the ice, negating 49 of 53 chances for Tampa.

The lost opportunity to go up 3-0 in the series stings, but the Rangers have been in more challenging positions this postseason. New York blew Game one leads in both the first and second round. Game one against Pittsburgh was a triple-overtime heartbreaker in which the Rangers got out to a two-goal lead. It seems like a lifetime ago, but that was this young core’s first playoff game together. Game one in Carolina was a one-goal lead blown in the last three minutes that eventually ended as another overtime loss. While the Blueshirts lost game two in Carolina, they bounced back from the disappointing losses.

Ryan Strome left early in the first period after a seemingly little push in his back from a passing Tampa defender. He tried to come back in the second but only played one shift. Gallant said they’d know more on Strome Monday, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll divulge any pertinent information about his timetable.

The pivotal game four is Tuesday night in Tampa Bay.

Luca Perito

Born and raised in New York. I've lived in Arizona, Maryland, Delaware, and California. Love all sports. Twitter @elbigcalzonelp -- Instagram @thebigcalzone

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