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Burns: 3 things we learned from a level series

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

With four games played, the Eastern Conference Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers has become a race to see who can win two of the next three.

The Lightning had a chance to consolidate its home-ice advantage but failed to capitalize, falling 5-1 to a determined Rangers side, tying the series two games apiece as its heads back to Madison Square Garden.

Tampa Bay’s once- prolific offense suddenly went dormant in Game 4, as Steven Stamkos’ second-period tally was the only goal of the game for the Lightning.

The Bolts weren’t without chances, though.

Tampa Bay had 39 shots against the Rangers, a couple that struck iron and a few more than required tremendous saves from New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who rebounded from two poor outings to put together his best performance of the series to date.

Game 5 suddenly takes on a must-win vibe. If the Lightning can go into MSG and win their fourth game there in five tries this season, they’ll have a chance to wrap up a trip to the Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena.

How can the Lightning accomplish that goal?

Three ways in Three Things.

1. SECOND BEST

The New York Rangers took control of Game 4 in the second period, yet the Lightning were the better team in the period and outshot the Rangers by a three-to-one margin.

Sometimes, the effort doesn’t warrant the results.

The Lightning allowed just one shot on goal through the first 10 minutes of the middle frame. When Steven Stamkos netted his sixth goal of the postseason to level the score 1-1 at 11:30, it seemed the Lightning offense was well on its way to picking up where it left off in Games 2 and 3 -- when it scored 12 times combined -- and start raining goals on the Rangers.

The deluge never came.

Instead, a pair of untimely giveaways in its own zone allowed the Rangers to pressure Ben Bishop’s net 15 minutes into the period, and Chris Kreider stuffed a rebound try five hole to stem the tide and put the Rangers back in the lead.

Less than two minutes later, Keith Yandle saw his shot from the point redirect off the skate of Victor Hedman between the circles, and suddenly, a period in which the Lightning felt they deserved no worse than a tie game heading into the second intermission resulted instead in a two-goal deficit.

“If we were to play that second period for the rest of the series, we’d feel good about our chances,” Johnson said. “It’s a little unfortunate we ended up coming down another goal after that second period. I thought we played pretty well, but that’s hockey. Sometimes you get the bounces. Sometimes you don’t. There’s been games where it’s gone the other way for us, so can’t really complain.”

Down two, the Lightning came out strong to start the third, putting the first four shots on goal in the period and 10 of the first 13.

Martin St. Louis’ one-timer on a power play a little more than five minutes in signaled an end to the Lightning’s belief.

“It’s tough to have a period like we did in the second period,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Nine times out of 10, you’re coming out with the lead, probably by multiple goals. Instead, you come out of that, you lose the period. It doesn’t happen very often. We’ve been on both sides of that…It’s how you fight after that, and I thought we opened up the third period pretty well, and I think when they got that fourth one, it took a little air out of sails and that was it after that.”

2. LOOSE CHANGE

In Game 4, Kreider’s squeezed shot under Bishop on a rebound put the Rangers in the lead for good.

Midway through the third, Yandle’s shot from the point was deflected on target. Bishop made the initial stop, but Rick Nash was unaccounted for in the crease and jammed the puck home.

An increasing number of New York goals in the series have come via the rebound, an alarming trend the Lightning need to shore up quickly in what has become a best-of-three set to see who goes to the Stanley Cup Final.

“I don’t think we can put any goals on (Bishop) tonight,” defenseman Anton Stralman said. “I think he did his job back there. We gave up some really good chances, a couple of tough bounces, but, again, I think we can clean up in front of him a little bit better. I think that’s key.”

New York has scored two goals on rebounds in each of the last two games, accounting for 40 percent of its scoring over that stretch.

Kreider has two rebound goals following loose-change markers in Games 2 and 4. Six of the Rangers’ 14 goals in the series (42.9 percent) have come on second-chance opportunities.

“They’ve done a good job capitalizing on rebounds,” forward Alex Killorn said. “They get shots and they score off the rebounds. I think we have to do a better job of taking guys in front of the net. Kreider’s had a few where he just kind of stands in front of the net and puts them in, so we’ve got to be better about that.”

3. LEAKING OIL

The Lightning penalty kill entered the Eastern Conference Final on a roll, having allowed just one power-play goal in the six-game Montreal series and killing off 15 of the Canadiens 16 power plays, a remarkable 93.8 percent success rate.

The Rangers have exposed some holes in the special teams unit, however.

The Bolts have given up two power-play goals in each of the last three games. The Rangers have scored six power-play goals in 15 opportunities through four games, an extremely efficient 40 percent conversion rate, and last night, their two third-period goals with the man-advantage deflated a potential Lightning rally.

“Six goals in three games, that’s just unacceptable,” Lightning goalie Ben Bishop said. “The penalty kill needs to get better and that starts with me.”

Tampa Bay was one of the better penalty-killing teams in the league during the regular season, finishing tied for seventh out of 30 at 83.7 percent.

Prior to the Eastern Conference Final, the Lightning were killing penalties at an 86.7 percent clip in the playoffs.

Following Game 4, the Bolts now have an 80 percent (48-of-60) postseason penalty kill rate and rank third among the four remaining playoff teams. Only Chicago, at 75 percent as of Saturday morning, is worse.

Behind their power-play success, the Rangers have scored 10 goals in two games.

Said Bishop: “You never like to give up five goals in back-to-back games, but the best part is we’ve got another game.”

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