New York (AFP) – After winning the series’ opening game with an offensive show, the New York Rangers used a strong defensive effort to take the second game.
Mika Zibanijad scored in the third inning, Igor Shesterkin held 29 shots and held the Rangers to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 on Friday night in the Eastern Conference Finals.
“It’s a big win for us, but we are preparing for the next one,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “The way we played the last two games, that’s how we’re going to play to win the series. We want to fight hard, we want to compete hard and we’ve played hard so far.”
Candre Miller and Kabu Kaku scored in the first half, and Adam Fox and Chris Kreider provided assists for Rangers. New York won its eighth consecutive home game, extending a playoff record.
“We’ve done a great job reducing it, especially in the first two periods,” Fox said. “We didn’t make a lot of mistakes. … When we needed those big balls, we finally got them as usual.”
Nikita Kucherov scored a goal and assist for Tampa Bay, Nicholas Poole also scored, and Andrei Vasilevsky made 25 saves. The Lightning goalkeeper allowed nine goals in two games against Rangers after limiting Florida to three in a four-game sweep in the second round.
“We didn’t do it right the way we got here,” said Tampa Bay captain Stephen Stampus. “They are a skilled team and they make you pay. We found some momentum at the end. We have to keep going.”
The Lightning has lost consecutive playoffs for the first time in the last three seasons. The two-time Stanley Cup champion, winner of 10 consecutive games, was 17-0 after losing.
“Obviously their team had a good playoff streak of not losing in successive matches but that’s not really on our minds when we come to games,” Fox said. “We don’t think about the lines the teams have or how they did it previously. It’s now and we’re just trying to bring it in day in and day out.”
The series moves to Tampa for Game 3 on Sunday and Game 4 on Tuesday night.
Zibanijad extended Rangers’ lead to 3-1 early in the third half after getting a pass from Fox, skating into the left circle and firing a shot that beat Vasilevsky high from the stick at 1:21. This was Zipanegad’s ninth qualifier and he has scored goals in six of his last seven matches.
“It was a big goal, of course,” Gallant said. “We knew they were going to push hard. … We fought, we found a way. We are playing against a real good team out there. They pushed the ball, and we saved some keys at the end.”
With Vasilevskiy withdrawing an extra skater, Paul scored up front with a pass from Corey Berry to pull Lightning into one before 2:04 from the left.
Vasilevskiy was pulled back for an extra skater when Shesterkin had to make several sprawling saves with about a minute left.
“You take that third period, remember it, and bring it to the next game,” Berry said. “They won at home. We have to go home and take care of the business.”
With the Rangers leading 2-1 after 20 minutes, Tyler Mott almost added to it 3 and a half minutes into the second half as his defense slipped through Vasilevsky’s podiums and was on the goal line when Perry moved to clear her.
Rangers outscored Lightning 14-10 in the middle of the goal-free period, with Tampa Bay’s most attempts coming in the final six minutes.
The Lightning got an early boost when a whistle blew from Rangers’ Ryan Reaves to lower him in the 2½ minute mark. They quickly seized the opportunity when Kucherov fired a shot from the right circle that beat Shesterkin on the side of the gauntlet in 2:41. This was Kucherov’s fifth in the post-season. Tampa Bay has been 0-for-9 in strong play in its previous three games.
Miller hooked it up just a few minutes later in the Rangers dash. He fired a shot from the right point blocked by Lightning’s defending man Brandon Hagel, but the puck got back on him and fired another shot that landed in the center at 5:59.
“It was a fantastic and comprehensive play,” Fox said. “A huge target from Key. You definitely fed us off.”
Mott almost gave Rangers the lead with 8 and a half minutes remaining, but his shot hit the post.
Kaku put Rangers ahead 2-1 when a pass from Fox veered past Vasilevsky from the right-hand threshold before 2:28 from the left in the first half.
Fox leads all defensemen in the National Hockey League with 17 assists and 22 points in the postseason. …Zibanijad has seven consecutive points with six goals and 11 points. He has 22 points in postseason. …Rangers have had 20 goals in their last four matches, having scored nine over the previous five.
Kreider has 53 points after the season, and holds fifth place in franchise history. … Kreider played in his 96th playoff, tying his former teammate – and current Lightning defender Ryan McDonagh – for fourth place in franchise history.
Follow Vin Cherwoo at http://www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP
More from AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL And the https://twitter.com/AP_Sports