/Rangers topple Lightning in Game 2 to take commanding 2-0 series lead

Rangers topple Lightning in Game 2 to take commanding 2-0 series lead

The Rangers have done what no other NHL team could do in the last two postseasons.

After feeding the Lightning their first consecutive playoff losses since 2019, the Rangers look like an unstoppable and determined bunch after a 3-2 victory in Game 2 Friday night at Madison Square Garden that has this team believing in itself more than ever.

Mika Zibanejad scored a crucial third-period goal, Igor Shesterkin made 29 saves and now the Rangers will venture to Tampa, Fla., for Games 3 and 4 with a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final.

The Rangers are picking apart the defending back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. They are poking holes in a Stanley Cup-winning ship that has stayed afloat for two seasons. There is no rhyme or reason to it — the Rangers are simply outplaying the Lightning in every sense of the word.

“We heard all year that [we weren’t] going to have playoff success,” said Adam Fox, who had two assists and has seemingly had the puck on a string through the first two games of this conference final series. “And we’ve said it all year, the belief in the room is high. The outside opinion doesn’t really affect anyone.

The Rangers take a 2-0 series lead into Tampa Bay.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

“We’re not thinking about what streaks teams have or how they’ve done earlier right now. We’re just trying to bring it day in and day out and the guys in [that] room believe in each other.”

It was another dominant second period for the Rangers, who limited Tampa Bay to just two shots on goal through roughly the first half of the middle frame to maintain a 2-1 lead. But the Rangers didn’t have anything to show for it, aside from how gassed the Lightning appeared to be.

What’s different this time around compared to the previous two series, however, is the Rangers’ ability to notch a highly coveted insurance tally. The Rangers’ top line of Chris Kreider, Zibanejad and Frank Vatrano came out flying to start the third period and generated a couple of odd-man rushes. On the second one, Zibanejad put the Rangers up 3-1 after wristing the puck past goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has given up nine goals on 62 shots through Games 1 and 2.

K'Andre Miller celebrates with teammates after scoring.
K’Andre Miller celebrates with teammates after scoring.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

So, when the Lightning pulled Vasilevskiy for the extra skater and Nicholas Paul scored off the rush to get his team within one with just over two minutes left in regulation, the Rangers had the wiggle room on the scoreboard to pull out the win.

These are the lessons the Rangers are beginning to learn.

“It was a big goal,” head coach Gerard Gallant said of Zibanejad’s tally. “We knew they were going to push real hard. We held on a little bit there, a little bit too much for me, but we battled and found a way.”

The Lightning, meanwhile, have three problems, and their names are Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko, who scored his second goal of the postseason to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead toward the end of the first period.

Igor Shesterkin makes a save during the Rangers' Game 2 win over the Lightning.
Igor Shesterkin makes a save during the Rangers’ Game 2 win over the Lightning.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Every time that trio has been on the ice through the first two games, Tampa Bay has suddenly been hemmed in its zone and chasing the puck. The Lightning are far from the first team to have trouble with the youngsters, who are best known for making up a unit that has an average age of 21.

But the Rangers’ mindset is still the same. Fox said they can’t take their foot off the gas. Shesterkin, who has backstopped his team to two wins over Vasilevskiy, the goalie he said was the best in the world before this series, noted that the Rangers still need two more wins.

The dynamic of this series has changed entirely, but the Rangers know just how quickly it can shift back — they’ve flipped two series upside down themselves.

“It’s a huge win for us, but we just get ready for the next one,” Gallant said. “It’s in the past behind us. We know what we’re doing, playing a real good team like Tampa [Bay]. To play the way we’ve played the last two games, that’s the way we’re going to have to play to win this series.

“We want to battle hard, we want to compete hard and we’ve been a tough out so far. The guys have to rally around that.”