NEW YORK — If the Tampa Bay Lightning are to win their third straight Stanley Cup, they must overcome an adversity they have never faced in their last two championship rides.
The Lightning are on the ropes to a 3:2 lost against the New York Rangers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday at Madison Square Garden. After losing consecutive playoff games for the first time since 2019, Tampa Bay is 2-0 down in the best-of-7 series and heads out Sunday (3:00 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, CBC, SN , TVAS) heading home for Game 3 for a way to turn the momentum.
“At some point in the playoffs you might end up losing twice in a row,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “The fact that we haven’t done it for how many years is remarkable. So you could take a second and say, ‘Damn good job guys.’ But for the most part streaks come to an end and sadly it came to an end tonight.
“Did it knock us out of the playoffs? Didn’t it. Do we have a hill to climb? No question. … But I think we have the better part in us.”
[RELATED: Complete Rangers vs. Lightning series coverage]
The Lightning was 17-0 in the playoff games after a loss since being defeated by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round in 2019, but didn’t find a magical rebound on Friday against the Rangers, who capitalized on their speed and forecheck to force repeated turnovers that led to odds -man rushing and scoring chances.
“It was just puck management,” Lightning defended Victor Hedman said. “It’s one of those things that we need to get better at.”
Building on a 6-2 win in Game 1 on Wednesday, New York shook off Nikita Kutscherow‘s power play goal that gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead, 2:41 into the game and took control with goals out K’Andre Miller at 5:59 and Kapo Kakko at 17:32 to lead 2-1 at the end of the first period.
Rangers dominated much of the second half but were unable to extend their lead largely because of the goalkeeper Andrei Vasilyevskywho made 14 of his 25 saves in the middle section.
After that, Kucherov led to a turnover Mika ZibanejadThe increased goal of the Rangers led to 3:1
Finally, at 1:21 of the third period, the Lightning began to play a simpler, more straight-forward game. That led to Tampa Bay exerting more pressure at the end and eventually New York Nicholas Paul6v5 goal to make it 3-2 with 2:02 left.
But despite a couple of late chances to level the game including a rebound shot out Steven Stamko this Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin Stopped with 58 seconds remaining, the Lightning’s late-game desperation wasn’t enough.
“Just the urgency of winning those fights and then keeping our feet moving really turned the tables in the end,” said Paul. “Obviously not the result we wanted, but take that third period, remember that and just go from there.”
Video: Rangers take a 2-0 lead in Conference Finals, win 3-2
For the past two seasons, the Lightning have found a way to play with urgency without losing two straight playoff games. That saved them from getting into predicaments like this as they needed to win four of the next five games to keep alive their quest to become the first team to win the trophy in three straight seasons since the New York Islanders won four championships in a row from 1980. 83
“It’s been a hell of a ride reacting after losses in recent years, so it shows the character of this group,” Stamkos said. “It’s the hardest trophy to win and you’re going to come across some adverse moments and this is certainly one of them.”
Strangely, the Lightning are now looking to the Rangers to believe they can climb out of this hole. Trailing 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round and 2-0 to the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round, New York rallied to win every series.
“So the recipe is there,” Stamkos said. “There are some of us who have been in situations like this before in our careers and found a way to win a series… We get a chance to come back in front of our fans and let’s start the next game and we’ll be by.” continue from there. But this is a resilient group and we just need to get back to our identity.”
This identity begins by playing with a defensive structure that sometimes suffocates and frustrates opponents. Thus, the Lightning defeated the Florida Panthers in the second round and limited their high-profile offense to a total of three goals in the series.
The Lightning haven’t been able to get close to that type of defensive play in two games against the Rangers. If they don’t make it in Game 3, it could be a short streak.
Cooper said the Lightning don’t count forward Brayden point, who led them in playoff goals for the last two seasons and has been sidelined since Game 7 of Round 1 with a lower body injury “only to miraculously come out for Game 3”. So it will be up to the sane players to turn the streak around.
“We have to start a game the way we played this period,” said the striker Corey Perry said. “We got a bit of momentum. We see what works and what doesn’t, and you need to remember to go home. You have to win your games at home. They did that and we have to go home and take care of business.”