NEW YORK (Reuters) - Tampa Bay Lightning stood firm on defense before striking with two brilliant second-period goals to move within one victory of the Stanley Cup Finals with a 2-0 road win over the New York Rangers on Sunday.
The victory lifted Tampa Bay into a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals with the series heading back to Florida on Tuesday.
Neutralized in the first period and a half, the Lightning exploded into life during a sublime spell late in the second, sparked by Valtteri Filppula flicking the puck over goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s stick into the left corner after a feed from captain Steven Stamkos at 13:29.
Five minutes later, two perfect passes led to an easy power-play goal from the skipper that doubled the lead, leaving goalie Ben Bishop to protect the advantage by stopping all 26 shots to complete the shutout.
Tampa Bay, who led the National Hockey League in scoring, weathered four New York power-plays before taking charge at Madison Square Garden.
”It’s not how many you score. It’s how many you keep out of the net,“ Lightning coach Jon Cooper told reporters. ”The boys committed to defense.
“Huge effort on the penalty kill. If they get the first one (goal), no telling how the game would go.”
Stamkos said the visitors figured the Rangers would be fired up after their 5-1 Game Four win in Tampa Bay tied the series 2-2.
“We knew they were going to push. They had some confidence from last game,” said Stamkos, who was without a point in the first eight post-season games but has now scored in four straight contests.
“We did what the Rangers did last game, we bent but we didn’t break.”
After Tampa Bay’s critical penalty kills and a timely timeout by coach Cooper, the attack began to click.
Five minutes after Filppula’s goal, Nikita Kucherov centered to Ondrej Palat, who had Lundqvist committed before sweeping it across to Stamkos, who one-timed it into an open net.
The first period was played largely in Tampa Bay’s end as the Rangers controlled the puck and won the battles for possession but could not cash in opportunities.
New York, who scored on two of four power-plays in that 5-1 rout last time out, came up empty in four chances with a man advantage.
“If we want to continue to play, we’re going to have to play our best game of the year,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury/John O'Brien