Lightning-Rangers Series Now a Sprint to the Finish
True leaders can rise from the ashes of failure to reclaim their mantle of responsibility, and that's exactly what Henrik Lundqvist did in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The New York Rangers' goalie had been dominant all playoffs long until hitting turbulence in Games 2 and 3 against Tampa Bay, but he came back strong in Game 4 as the Blueshirts pummeled the Lightning, 5-1, to even the series at two games apiece.
Who knew the Rangers were doing a reverse Major League with their Stanley Cup puzzle?
After surrendering 12 goals in two games and with the season on the line, the unflappable King Henrik stopped 38 shots, many by being more aggressive in coming out to challenge. On others, he was much more aware of directing rebounds away from second-chance shooters in the crease.
The Presidents' Trophy winners looked like it again, with those two goals from big gun Rick Nash and the power play marker from Martin St Louis reigniting the offense that got New York their top seed in the first place.
Keith Yandle was accustomed to bouncing back from lopsided results in Phoenix, and his goal was just reward for a steady contribution all game long. And Chris Kreider stopped looking to make the highlight reels and kept to his assignments, so when the run of play came to him, he was well in position to cash in.
Now, it's Lightning goalie Ben Bishop who must step up. He was shaky again as he gave up five goals for the second straight game. Tampa Bay outshot the Rangers, 39-24, but while Lundqvist came up big time and time again, frustrating the Bolts, the 6-7 'Ning netminder had few sterling moments.
The second period was a prime example of this, when Tampa Bay outshot New York, 19-6, but were outscored, 2-1.
The series moves back to New York tonight, where the Lightning won Game 2, 6-2, and where the Rangers have lost one game each series this spring.
Tampa Bay needs one more win in the Garden to make the finals for the first time since they won the Cup in 2004. Two Rangers -- St Louis and Dan Boyle -- were on that team. Conversely, Lightning stalwarts Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman were keys to the Rangers' run to the finals last year, while Ryan Callahan was a key to the Blueshirts' run to the conference final in 2012.
Callahan was traded for St Louis last year in the first swap of captains in NHL history.
This series has been fast, hard hitting, chippy, and for lack of a better word, very odd. The Rangers are reputed to be the fastest team in the NHL, but frequently, Tampa Bay looks like they're skating rings around them.
And if the Lightning want rings this year, they'll have to do it some more.