After a wild Game 3, the New York Rangers (53-22-7), the team with the best record in the NHL during the regular season, will look to avoid going down 3-1 for a second straight series when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning (50-24-8) tonight at Amalie Arena (8:00 PM Eastern).
The Rangers number one concern is finding a way to stop Tampa’s powerful offense, which was tops in the NHL during the regular season. New York, which advanced to this point on the strength of its stingy defense, has allowed 12 goals in the last two games (not shockingly, both losses). Goalie Henrik Lundqvist no longer looks like the best player on his team.
“It’s really challenging for me, the way they move the puck and find open ice for the shot, the way they get scoring chances from right in front. They’re good, but I need to be more consistent with my game plan,” Lundqvist told the Associated Press after Game 3’s 6-5 OT loss.
Tampa Bay has had success thanks to their speed; the line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Nikita Kucherov – nicknamed the “Triplets” – have been largely unstoppable over the last two games. The trio combined for four of Tampa’s six goals on Wednesday and have provided over half the offense for the Lightning in the playoffs (25 of 47 goals, total).
Despite surrendering leads of 4-2 and 5-4, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was focusing on the positives after the thrilling OT win.
“We found a way, and that’s what the playoffs are all about — finding a way,” said Stamkos to the Associated Press. “It wasn’t pretty at times, but you get the win, and that’s all that matters.”
If the Rangers are going to even the series tonight, they will need to get back to what they do best: defend. Trying to counterpunch with the offensively loaded Lightning is not a recipe for success. Betting-wise, the main trends point to another Tampa win, though. The Lightning have taken seven of the last ten from New York, including five of six this season.
Pick: Tampa Bay -120.
(Photo Credit: Lisa Gansky (Flickr: IMG_9865) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)