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Lundqvist, Rangers must adapt to Lightning's speed

by Brian Compton /



Tampa Bay leads best-of-7 series 2-1

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning are halfway to their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 2004 and can get one game closer with a victory against the New York Rangers in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final on Friday at Amalie Arena.

The Lightning took the series lead when forward Nikita Kucherov scored 3:33 into overtime Wednesday for a 6-5 win in Game 3. After a 2-1 loss in Game 1, Tampa Bay has scored 12 goals in its past two games.

It's unlikely they'll continue to average six goals per game, but the Lightning are not about to slow things down. Their ability to play a speed game, combined with an abundance of skill, is what has gotten them this far.

"I think it's just playing fast," said captain Steven Stamkos, who scored his fifth goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Wednesday. "Both these teams in this conference final want to play fast. I think that's been our identity all season long -- transition and getting our D to move the puck up quick -- but at the same time we're successful only when we do that with structure.

"It's not trying to always use our skill and stickhandle through the neutral zone or make plays that aren't always there. We're most effective when we can do that with speed, when we can attack with speed, get pucks in deep and then let the skill and the speed go to work. For the most part in the last couple games, we've been able to do that and we've had success."

Stamkos has found success this postseason after being shifted from center to right wing on a line with center Valtteri Filppula and left wing Alex Killorn in Game 5 of the eastern Conference Second Round against the Montreal Canadiens. Stamkos has 11 points in his past eight games; Killorn has three goals and two assists in the past two.

The Rangers were able to generate offense in Game 3. They took a 2-0 lead, then rallied from 4-2 down to force overtime.

"I think it's going to be a tough game," Killorn said. "I think it's going to be the hardest game of the series, for sure, maybe the hardest game of the playoffs.

"We know they have a veteran group over there, who know how to battle, who have been in these situations before. So it should be a good one."

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has allowed 12 goals on 66 shots over the past two games. His goals-against average has risen from 1.56 to 2.12 since the conclusion of Game 1; his save percentage has dropped to .926 from .945.

On Thursday, coach Alain Vigneault quickly brushed aside any delusions of not starting Lundqvist in Game 4.

"Hank's our guy," Vigneault said.

Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan, who was Lundqvist's teammate until being traded to Tampa Bay last season, fully expects the Rangers goalie to bounce back.

"He's a competitor. Everybody knows that," Callahan said. "He's going to compete and he's going to play his best. We have to continue to try to get pucks there, bodies there. Obviously it's about us and what we do, so we've just got to worry about that."

Rangers forward Martin St. Louis hasn't scored in 15 games in the postseason. Forward Rick Nash, who led New York with 42 goals during the regular season, has two goals in the playoffs and has gone four straight games without a point. Nash has seven goals since March 2.

The Rangers did not have a formal practice Thursday, but injured forward Mats Zuccarello (upper body) skated. He's been out since Game 5 of the first-round against the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 24. Zuccarello, who was not made available to the media Thursday, is not expected to play in Game 4.

"Normal step," Vigneault said. "There's a number of steps and this is one of them."

Cooper did not have an update on defenseman Matt Carle, who left in the first period of Game 3 with an undisclosed injury after a collision with Rangers center Derek Stepan.

"Day-to-day," Cooper said. "But then again, aren't we all?"


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