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Rangers look to slow down Lightning in Game 4

by Dan Rosen /

TAMPA -- The New York Rangers have thrived all season on being one of, if not the fastest team in the National Hockey League. After being opened up and exposed by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the past two games of the Eastern Conference Final, they realize speed won't get them to the Stanley Cup Final.

"We don't want to play this way, a track-meet game, back and forth," defenseman Dan Girardi said after the Rangers lost 6-5 in overtime in Game 3 on Monday. "They're fast, we're fast, but I think we want to make it a little more tight checking next game."

Girardi said he doesn't think the Rangers need to necessarily slow themselves down to win Game 4 on Friday at Amalie Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), but they need to be better in their structure and more precise in their decision making if they want to even the best-of-7 series at 2-2.

If the Rangers do that, it will give them a better chance to possess the puck and get into a down-low cycle game, which will slow the game down to a pace they're more comfortable with against Tampa Bay, a team that clearly thrives on helter-skelter.

The Rangers haven't been good in their structure or decision making in the past two games and that's why the Lightning have been able to zip all around the ice, come at them with odd-man rushes, spread them out, find seams, create turnovers, cause penalties, and score 12 goals on goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

New York's penalty kill, which was 25-for-28 in the first two rounds, is 4-for-8 in the past two games.

The Rangers have had no answer for Tampa Bay's red-hot line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.

Johnson had a hat trick in Game 2 and joined his linemates in lighting up the Rangers again in Game 3. They combined for seven points, including four goals. Kucherov scored the winner 3:33 into overtime.

Steven Stamkos has four points in the past two games. Alex Killorn has five points in the past two games.

"We have to make sure that we find a way to sharpen up a little defensively because giving up six goals back-to-back nights, you're not going to have much success in the playoffs that way," Rangers center Derek Stepan said. "We have to find a way to just do a better job of not getting ourselves so spread out as a five-man group."

It hasn't helped that Lundqvist's game has been uncharacteristically poor since Game 1. He has allowed 12 goals on 66 shots in the past two games after giving up 21 goals on 379 shots through the first 13 games in the playoffs.

Lundqvist's goals-against average has soared to 2.12 from 1.56 in the past two games; his save percentage has dropped from .945 to .926.

It got to the point where coach Alain Vigneault was asked on Thursday if Lundqvist will start Game 4.

"Is that a serious question," Vigneault responded.

Told it was, he said, "Hank's the guy."

Lundqvist is also feeling the pain of how fast the Lightning are playing.

"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," Lundqvist said. "I just need to dig deep here to try to be more consistent with my game plan.

"Honestly, you're not going to win if I give up six goals."

The Lightning's speed in the zone appears to have Lundqvist caught in between.

Lundqvist said when he challenges by coming to the top of his crease, the Lightning are beating him with a pass to force him out of position. When he stays back, he's getting beat because the Lightning are getting too much room in the slot and he is getting impatient.

"You can give up some scoring chances, but it seems like they can always find that middle and time with the puck," Lundqvist said. "It's tough when good shooters get time. I just have to be smarter.

"The way they move the puck, the way they find openings, they're really testing our defense and our positioning, and also me, obviously."

The only way for the Rangers to counter is to have the puck. That will stop the Lightning from what they do best. That will slow the game down.

"They're making us run around a bit in our 'D' zone," Girardi said. "We've got to clean that up, stay tighter, and try to figure it out from there."


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