The Wraparound: Will Rangers regret missed opportunity in Game 3?

·4 min read

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television information.

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The opportunity was there for the New York Rangers.

Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad scored a pair of power play goals 2:07 apart in the second period to give the visitors a 2-0 lead inside AMALIE Arena. The Tampa Bay Lightning were on the ropes and a little over a half hour of hockey away from facing a 3-0 series deficit and the potential end of their Stanley Cup three-peat dreams.

But 25 seconds after Kreider’s goal, Jacob Trouba took an interference penalty and Nikita Kucherov gave the Lightning life with his sixth of the playoffs.

When the third period began, it was Trouba again giving the Lightning an assist by taking another penalty. Steven Stamkos made them pay 45 seconds later.

Suddenly, a golden opportunity for the Rangers was spiraling out of control.

“With them getting the early one on the power play we couldn’t switch back to playing attacking hockey like we usually do,” said Rangers forward Andrew Copp. “I don’t know if we were trying to come out and play defensive. I don’t think that was the talk at all. We know that third goal is going to be important kind of like in Game 2, but once they got the [tying] goal we just couldn’t get ourselves going north and attacking.”

Ondrej Palat’s late goal gave the Lightning life in the series, and then Tampa Bay played a controlled game during a 4-1 win Tuesday night in Game 4 to even the series. Now it’s a best-of-three to decide who advances to play the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Final.

[MORE: Lightning even series with Rangers in Game 4 win]

The Lightning have had to play with urgency in the last two games, and the Rangers haven’t been helping themselves. Zibanejad’s third-period goal in Game 2 was the last time they scored at 5-on-5 in the series.

Will Game 3 come back to haunt the Rangers?

“It wasn’t second and third chance opportunities in the first two home games, it was moving the puck east to west across the ice, getting the puck off your stick in less than a half a second,” said Kreider. “I don’t care who is in net, every goalie in the world struggles with a puck that goes east-west, has to battle through traffic and then is immediately released on net. They can’t get set. That’s what gives us our best chance, and I think to a guy we probably all could say we received a pass like that tonight and got it, picked our head up, tried to pick a spot as opposed to getting it off quick.”

Kreider’s right. The passing lanes across the Tampa Bay zone were open more often than not in Games 1 and 2. That allowed the Rangers to move the puck quicker, forcing Andrei Vasilevskiy to constantly adjust his positioning. It led to opportunities and goals and allows New York to take advantage of a Lightning team that may have still been shaking off some rust from nine days off.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

But those chances since Game 2? Those cross ice passes have been taken away. According to the work of Corey Sznajder of All Three Zones, the Rangers made nine “cross-slot” passes in the first two games and only three total since. New York also helped the Lightning out further with 21 turnovers that led to Lightning shots compared to only 11 in Games 1 and 2.

The Rangers now head home to Madison Square Garden where they’ve won eight straight games since the Game 1 triple overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the First Round. This could be an opportunity for a bit of a reset.

“It’s not easy, but we can’t be sad,” said Artemi Panarin. “For sure it’s not going to help us. Try to be positive. We have to be positive. We’ve been in a worse spot before, so we’re OK. I hope we do well in the Garden. Our fans, nice to see again. Try to do something more.”

2022 NHL playoff schedule: Eastern Conference Final

NEW YORK RANGERS v. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (Series tied 2-2)

Game 1 – Rangers 6, Lightning 2
Game 2 – Rangers 3, Lightning 2
Game 3 – Lightning 3, Rangers 2
Game 4 – Lightning 4, Rangers 1
Game 5 – June 9: Lightning at Rangers, 8 p.m. ET, (ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS)
Game 6 – June 11: Rangers at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET, (ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS)
*Game 7 – June 14: Lightning at Rangers, 8 p.m. ET, (ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS)

* If necessary

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Wraparound: Will Rangers regret missed opportunity in Game 3? originally appeared on NBCSports.com