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Rangers hit the road after another home split

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

NEW YORK -- The good news for the New York Rangers is that they've traveled this road before in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

For the third straight series, the Rangers hit the road after splitting the first two games at Madison Square Garden. The Tampa Bay Lightning evened the Eastern Conference Final on Monday with a 6-2 victory in Game 2. Game 3 is scheduled Wednesday at Amalie Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

The Rangers found themselves in a 1-1 series deadlock with the Pittsburgh Penguins before winning three straight games in the Eastern Conference First Round. They split the first two games against the Washington Capitals in the second round, then fell behind 3-1 before winning the series in seven games.

But each of the games in the opening two rounds was decided by one goal. In contrast, the Lightning became the first team this spring to score more than four goals against New York. Tampa Bay won the special-teams battle, going 3-for-6 on the power play and scoring a shorthanded goal.

"It's tough to say if we can look back at our opening two series and feel as good about ourselves this time," Rangers center Derek Stepan said. "[The Lightning] are a different team, a whole different animal. We have to find a way to stay more disciplined. We have to make sure we're not taking as many penalties as we did. You see what happens if you let a power play get going in the playoffs? They're going to score goals."

The Rangers entered the game fifth among playoff teams on the penalty kill at 87.5 percent. They dropped to ninth (81.6 percent) after Game 2.

Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh knows his team will have to play much more disciplined hockey and not allow the Lightning so many power-play opportunities.

"We've seen many good power plays throughout the season," McDonagh said. "It's a matter of guys finding their reads and making their plays with and without the puck. We've killed off countless power plays in a game. Unfortunately, we couldn't stop them [Monday]."

The Lightning are 13-for-60 (21.7 percent) with the extra man in the playoffs. But they are 11-for-30 (36.7 percent) in their past eight games -- six against the Montreal Canadiens in the second round and the first two against New York.

The Rangers will try to erase this game from their memory banks quickly.

"I don't even know what to call this game," McDonagh said. "I want to get rid of it. Get the thought out of my head, because I've never really seen this group [take so many careless penalties] before and play that way. We've got a find a way to just get back to playing the way we know we can."

The Rangers' streak of 15 consecutive one-goal games in the playoffs ended decisively. Lightning forward Tyler Johnson had the first playoff hat trick in franchise history, scoring a power-play goal, a shorthanded goal and an even-strength goal.

"Without a doubt he took his game to another level," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said of Johnson. "We need our top guys to do the same thing."

Stepan knows winning in Tampa won't be easy. The Lightning had the NHL's best home record (32-8-1) during the regular season.

"Teams don't make it to the Eastern Conference Final by mistake," Stepan said. "This is a good hockey team, and we've got a tall task in front of us. We've got to find a way to put a good game together for 60 minutes."

The Rangers outshot Tampa Bay 37-26 and were 2-for-5 on the power play. But Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop made big saves when he had to, including back-to-back stops against Rick Nash and Jesper Fast two minutes into the third period with his team on the power play and leading 3-2. Alex Killorn scored the first of his two goals at 3:09 to extend the lead to 4-2.

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said the Lightning's speed makes good decision-making a must.

"You just have to wipe it clean," he said. "It's one game; it's a tied series and we're going down to Tampa. There were good things [Monday], we played with speed, but a lot comes down to making good decisions with the puck on the blue line. You could see when we lost the puck how fast they came back at us, and they don't need much."

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