NEW YORK – The New York Rangers remained unbeatable when entering the third period with a lead.
With the score tied 1-1 on Saturday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Rangers forward Kevin Hayes fought through a check by former Ranger Ryan Callahan, and then sent a pass that deflected off of former Lightning forward Dominic Moore's knee for a 2-1 lead at 17:35 that would hold, giving the Rangers a 2-1 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.
"Dom's done a lot of good things for us. To see him get the benefit of that bounce with hard work [it] pays off," said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. "Even though they tied it up, we kept working."
"That's the playoffs, isn't it?" said Lightning coach Jon Cooper on the goal. "I give them credit. They threw one at the net and got one in. It often comes down to who gets the last bounce at the end."
The Rangers entered the game 4-0 in the playoffs when leading after the second, after going 36-0-1 in the regular season; the Lightning were 1-5 in the playoffs, after going 3-21-2 in the regular season when trailing after two.
The first period saw the Rangers get the better chances, outshooting the Bolts 11-7. Bishop had to be sharp – stopping Kevin Hayes with a snap of the glove, blocking a Derek Stepan breakaway attempt, deflecting a Rick Nash chance with the blade on his skate. They dominated in possession – 69.4 percent Corsi advantage – but the game remained scoreless.
The Lightning had a much stronger second, forcing Lundqvist to make a few key saves, including one on a Palat deflection. The Rangers had 2:23 of power-play time, the Lightning had 23 seconds. It was back and forth play, with more blown chances than spectacular stops, leading to a bit of tedium.
That was, until there were 12.7 seconds left.
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh fired the puck into traffic in front of Bishop, just as Chris Kreider skated from in back of the net and knocked the goalie’s stick from his hand. (Incidental contact? Maybe. A goal waved off if the puck went through at that moment? Possibly.)
The puck deflected back to Kreider, now in the slot, who trickled a shot through Andrej Sustr to where Stepan was waiting for it, popping the puck into the back of the net for the 1-0 lead.
But the Lightning tied the game on their red-hot power play in the third, thanks to two of the "Triplets".
With Ryan McDonagh, one of the Rangers' top penalty killers, in the box after high-sticking Tyler Johnson, Victor Hedman found an open Johnson on the left side. He sent a cross-ice pass that just eluded the stick of Stepan to linemate Ondrej Palat, who fired it to the top corner of Lundqvist’s glove side for the 1-1 tie at 6:45.
Game 2 of the series is on Monday night.
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