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Three keys for Lightning, Rangers to winning Game 3

by Dan Rosen /

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning are confident they can skate with and beat the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final. They proved it in a 6-2 win in Game 2 on Monday.

It was the third straight Game 2 in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs that the Lightning have won by a four-goal margin.

The Rangers are confident they can rebound from what captain Ryan McDonagh referred to as a selfish, embarrassing and uncharacteristic effort in Game 2 with a strong performance in Game 3 on Wednesday at Amalie Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

It was the Rangers worst loss since a 5-1 loss to the Lightning on Nov. 17.

"We got beat 6-2, and that's something that doesn't happen to us very regularly," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said, "so I think our guys are going to respond well tonight."

OK, so confidence is high on both sides, but what are the keys for each team to feed off it and make it count?

Read below to find out:


1. Stay out of the box

This should be put in big capital letters because it is the single most important thing the Rangers must do in Game 3. The Lightning were 3-for-6 on the power play in Game 2 and are 4-for-10 in the series.

Lightning left wing Alex Killorn's goal at 3:09 of the third period Monday night came seven seconds after Rangers center Derek Stepan came out of the box. The puck was already in the zone and the Rangers didn't have time to set up at 5-on-5 before Killorn scored.

"They basically got four power play goals because one [Stepan] just stepped out of the box," defenseman Marc Staal said.

A key to defending the Lightning's red-hot power play (11-for-26 in past seven games) is cutting off the seam pass. The Rangers have not done it well enough.

"They're very good at faking that shot and throwing it across ice, and they've got some guys that can hit it. It's definitely something we've got to do a better job with."

2. Get Nash rolling

The Rangers need to score more goals to win because two per game will not cut it. Enter slumping left wing Rick Nash, who has two goals on 50 shots in the playoffs.

Nash might be getting chances and he might be playing well away from the puck, but it's getting harder and harder to defend his lack of offense in the postseason. He had three goals on 83 shots in 25 playoff games last season and has seven goals on 188 shots in 55 career playoff games.

Nash scored 42 goals in the regular season by dominating in the offensive zone and getting to the net. He hasn't been around the blue paint enough in the playoffs and that's a big reason why he and the Rangers aren't scoring enough.

Center Derick Brassard said some of the onus to get Nash going is on him because he is supposed to be the one setting up scoring chances.

"Me and [Kevin] Hayes, we want to try to get him more involved, try to find him on the ice," Brassard said. "He's been working really hard and it's just a matter of time for him to score a big goal for us. Early on in the playoffs I was really confident with scoring goals so a lot of times I was looking to shoot the puck more, but it's my job as a center to try to get him more involved in the offensive zone. Using his speed and long reach is something maybe me and Hayes could do a better job of."

3. Find an answer for 'Triplets'

Tampa Bay's "Triplets" line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat has scored 21 of the Lightning's 41 goals in the postseason, including four of the seven they have in this series.

Without question Johnson has been the leader and the biggest thorn in the Rangers' side. He had a hat trick in Game 2 by scoring a shorthanded goal off a 3-on-5 breakaway, a 4-on-3 power-play goal and an even-strength goal.

Johnson has been all over the place. Palat has been supporting him and playing strong at both ends of the rink. Kucherov has gotten chances and is as dangerous as anyone on the ice.

If the Rangers can't solve this line -- easier said than done -- they could be in significant trouble.

"I think the biggest thing is turnovers against their line," Staal said. "You've got to be good with the puck and you've got to be smart with it. If you turn it over they've got some 'D' that can find those guys hitting holes and that's when you're in trouble and you're caught out on line changes. We've got to be smart with the puck and make them defend, make them tire out in their own zone."


1. Stay strong down the middle

Part of the reason why the Lightning were better in Game 2 than they were in Game 1 is because they were more assertive at trying to get to the middle of the ice and win the area. They were able to gain the zone better and have the puck more as a result.

By doing all of that, the Lightning were able to stop the Rangers defensemen from gapping up in the neutral zone to create turnovers. They basically slowed the Rangers down, which is always the goal against arguably the fastest team in the NHL.

"First game we turned way too many pucks over and that plays into their game, especially when they have a team that can transition the puck as quick as they can," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "They throw a lot of pucks up and let their speedy forwards go get it. If we can control the puck and get it 200 feet, if we don't have a play it just makes it that much harder. I know from experience we like to play fast as well, and if you get pucks in deep it's tougher to play that way. It makes it harder on their 'D', they have to go back and get it, and hopefully we can get some hits in on them and get the puck and hopefully create some chances."

2. Play physical

Speaking of getting more hits, the Lightning made it a point of emphasis to play a more physical game in Game 2. They were credited with 26 hits as opposed to 18 in Game 1, but that doesn't tell the whole story. They were better on the walls in winning one-on-one puck battles and they forechecked more aggressively when they had to, which wasn't very often.

"When we're competing with our work ethic that's when we play with a little more of a physical edge and guys get into the game," Stamkos said. "When we play that way, we've seen it all playoffs, we play better. Hopefully we can start off like that tonight."

Tampa Bay's idea of physical play is not going out and laying crushing hits, it's getting in on the body to spring a puck loose so they can use their speed to go the other way. The Lightning need to continue do to that in Game 3 because it obviously works.

"There's obviously a lot of guys in here that are competitive and that can win puck battles, and that's what it's all about," defenseman Jason Garrison said. "You want to make sure that you're positionally in a good spot and when you can be physical you be physical. It wears guys down and keeps them from coming up the ice."

3. Shoot more at even strength

The Lightning were good at generating Grade A scoring chances in Game 2, whether at even strength, on the power play, or even shorthanded. They can't bank on that continuing to happen against the Rangers, typically a stingy defensive team, which is why the Lightning need to focus on generating more shots on goal.

The Rangers have outshot the Lightning 47-35 in 98:19 of even-strength time in the series. Overall, the Rangers have outshot the Lightning 67-50. New York has a 124-91 edge in total shot attempts.

"We need to shoot more, for sure," Garrison said. "Obviously they do a good job of getting in lanes, we're aware of that, so we're trying to find ways to get pucks through and create havoc down there because when we've done that we've been able to get tips or rebounds. We got to focus on trying to get pucks, no matter what area of the ice you're in, on net. You've got to make sure you're getting those greasy goals as well as those good chances."


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