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Lightning defeat Rangers in OT, take series lead

by Brian Compton /

TAMPA -- For the second straight game, the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers abandoned the tight-checking, low-scoring approach.

And for the second straight game, the Lightning were the beneficiary.

Nikita Kucherov scored 3:33 into overtime to give the Lightning a 6-5 win against the Rangers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday at Amalie Arena.

Kucherov, who has seven goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, skated into the zone, made a move against Ryan McDonagh and sent a wrist shot past Henrik Lundqvist from between the circles to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.

Game 4 is Friday in Tampa (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"I just saw the D back up a little bit, they gave me space, and I just tried to shoot it," Kucherov said. "Any shot in overtime is a good shot. I'm glad I scored."

After losing Game 1 by a 2-1 score, the Lightning have scored 12 goals in the past two games. They rallied from a 2-0 deficit in Game 3, then blew a 4-2 lead.

Ondrej Palat had two goals and an assist, and Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn scored for the Lightning. Ben Bishop made 23 saves.

"I prefer to play this way if we keep winning," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. "I think we've got a pretty quick team, and they have a quick team. I don't know how it looks to everybody else, I don't know how it looks on TV, but when you're standing there, it is, pardon the pun, it is lightning fast.

"It's just amazing how the skill level and the speed, and how these guys can play the way they do at that high pace. But I don't know. They probably haven't seen a team like us on a regular basis, but they're probably looking a little bit in the mirror because we play similar styles. Fortunately for us, these last couple here have worked out for us."

Jesper Fast scored twice, and Derick Brassard, McDonagh and Dan Boyle each had a goal. Lundqvist made 34 saves for the Rangers, who had won 13 of 16 road games dating to the regular season.

Boyle's goal with 1:56 left helped send the game to overtime, but New York fell short in the extra period for the first time in five games this postseason.

Lundqvist denied J.T. Brown on a breakaway about a minute before Kucherov's goal. He has allowed five or more goals six times this season; the past four have been against Tampa Bay. Lundqvist is the first Rangers goalie to allow six goals in back-to-back playoff games since Gump Worsley in 1958, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"For some reason I couldn't pick it up," Lundqvist said of Kucherov's goal. "It comes at me and looks like it's coming towards me, and then I'm just late reacting. I don't know why I didn't pick it up. It's a tough one, it really is. It's really challenging for me the way they move the puck. The way they find open ice in the slot, and scoring chances right in front.

"I just need to dig deep here to try to be more consistent with my game plan, try to challenge the shooter, then they pass and sometimes you stay back. As a team, if we can be a little bit better, but also I have to be better. Honestly, you're not going to win if I give up six goals."

Brassard opened the scoring 1:02 into the game with a power-play goal. After Lightning forward Cedric Paquette was whistled for roughing 26 seconds into the game, Brassard took a pass from Boyle and beat Bishop with a slap shot from the left circle for his sixth goal of the postseason.

Lundqvist made his first big save five minutes into the game when he got across the crease to get his left pad on a one-timer by Killorn. He denied Killorn again on a breakaway with 3:17 left in the period.

Fast doubled New York's lead at 9:55 of the first period. Lightning defenseman Matthew Carle took a hit in the neutral zone from Rangers center Derek Stepan, allowing Chris Kreider to send Fast in on a breakaway, and the latter beat Bishop with a backhand shot to make it 2-0. It was Fast's second goal of the playoffs.

Carle left the game after the hit because of an undisclosed injury and did not return.

Stamkos got the Lightning within one with his fifth goal of the postseason at 11:07 of the first when he stripped Boyle at Tampa Bay's blue line, creating an odd-man rush the other way. Lundqvist denied Killorn's shot from the left circle, but Stamkos was there for the rebound to make it 2-1.

"I'm glad it didn't go much longer because the legs were starting to seize up a little bit out there," Stamkos said. "It was a fast pace. It was a great atmosphere, hot rink, I don't know what can be said for the amount of goals being scored.

"I'm glad we won, but at the same time I think in here we do realize we have to make some corrections on the defensive side."

The Lightning capitalized on a hooking penalty against Brassard midway through the second period when Palat scored on the power play. It was the culmination of a brilliant give-and-go with Johnson, who found Palat in the slot for a shot past Lundqvist to make it 2-2 at 10:32.

"We just have a skilled team," Palat said. "We play fast. When we play 200 feet, we just chip the puck and make the D turn. Our speed is huge in the playoffs, and I think it worked against a team like that."

Johnson then gave the Lightning their first lead of the game at 13:17 of the second. With the teams skating 4-on-4, Victor Hedman skated with the puck around the Rangers net and fed Palat at the right circle. Palat sent a feed across to Johnson, who quickly put it past Lundqvist for his playoff-leading 12th goal.

"I can't say enough about the leadership and the character we have," Johnson said. "We were down 2-0 pretty early and [we were] able to bounce back. A little unfortunate that we were unable to get the lead, and then they come back and especially get that late goal with two minutes left. That kind of deflates you, but I think the guys rallied behind each other and we kept going, and then [Kucherov] was able to finish it off in overtime."

Killorn doubled Tampa Bay's lead at 17:18 of the second. After Rangers defenseman Marc Staal shot wide on a solid chance in the slot, Killorn took a feed from Hedman, made a great move to avoid Boyle and beat Lundqvist with a wrist shot from between the circles to make it 4-2.

Fast got the Rangers back within one with his second goal of the game 29 seconds later when he put Kevin Klein's rebound past Bishop. He's the first Rangers rookie to have a multigoal game in the playoffs on the road since Mike Ridley against the Philadelphia Flyers in 1986.

"It feels good for the confidence, but the most important thing is it's a race to four wins," Fast said. "Today, we didn't get the win, so I don't feel that happy right now."

New York tied it 2:28 into the third on a power-play goal by McDonagh. After Fast was tripped by Lightning defenseman Andrej Sustr, Kevin Hayes sent a cross-ice feed to McDonagh, who beat Bishop from the right circle to make it 4-4.

New York was 2-for-4 with the man-advantage; Tampa Bay was 1-for-2.

Palat broke the tie when he gathered a pass from Nikita Nesterov, moved the puck from his skate to his stick and put a shot past Lundqvist from the slot at 14:05 of the third period.

"Some games unfold differently," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "You know, you've got two of the highest scoring teams in the League. You're going to get some nights, with the skill level out there, that there are going to be more goals, and this was one of those nights."

Boyle tied it for the Rangers when he skated to the front of the net, beat Kucherov to Keith Yandle's rebound and poked it past Lundqvist to make it 5-5.

With another road game Friday, the Rangers know they need to get back to what allowed them to win the series opener; they must tighten up defensively.

"I don't think we can look at it as, 'Let's play run and gun,'" Stepan said. "We haven't played that way all year. Our system is we stick to our structure. I think Game 2 they score six goals, they score five special-team goals. Game 3 tonight, it was just the way it game went. It was just one of those nights. Both teams had some space to create some opportunities and both teams scored a lot of goals."


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