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Three keys for Rangers, Lightning to winning Game 4

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning feel if they keep their foot on the pedal Friday in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), they'll be able to push themselves to within one win of the Stanley Cup Final.

The Lightning lead the New York Rangers 2-1 in the best-of-7 series.

The Rangers, meanwhile, feel if they get can back into their structured game and figure out a way to slow the Lightning, they'll go home for Game 5 with the series tied 2-2 and their home-ice advantage back intact.

Tampa Bay won the last two games by scoring six goals in each of them.

Here are three keys for each team:

RANGERS

1. Push the Lightning wide

Winning the middle of the ice is important in every game but it's not often the Rangers have faced teams that have come at them with the speed and playmaking ability that the Lightning have shown, particularly in the past two games. Tampa Bay has been dynamic through the middle of the ice, creating holes in the Rangers' defense and scoring opportunities on goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

The Rangers have to find a way to push the Lightning's forwards wide if they want any chance of slowing them and if they want any chance to play the structured defensive game that they want to play.

A helter-skelter game works for Tampa Bay; it doesn't work for New York. It's imperative New York wins the middle of the ice in order to win the game.

"We've got to make sure that we're closer to them in the neutral zone so maybe they don't make that play through our skate or through our stick," Rangers left wing Carl Hagelin said. "If you're close enough they can't make the pass and they have to chip it and skate onto it. If these guys have room in the neutral zone they're going to make the play. We've seen that all series long. It's just a matter of us being closer."

2. Shoot more

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop has been prone to leaving rebounds in the slot in this series. The Rangers have noticed it. So in Game 4 they have to try to take advantage of it by throwing more pucks at the net from odd angles with bodies crashing in.

Tampa Bay is good at making pretty plays in the offensive zone to create its grade-A scoring chances; New York has to try to score the greasy ones because the opportunity is there to do it. To do that pucks have to get to the net.

The Rangers had 48 even-strength shot attempts in Game 3, according to War-on-Ice.com; they had 37 in Game 2.

"I think we can throw a few more pucks at the net," Hagelin said. "We've been doing it but we're a little too much on the outside now. Against Washington it seemed like they were blocking every shot so it was hard to just throw it. I think it's easier against these guys to throw it at the net and crash it from there."

But to get more pucks at the net it means the Rangers have to have the puck more. Their cycle game has not been effective the past two games, which is a big reason why the Lightning have come at them in waves.

3. Hank's response

None of the above matters if Lundqvist doesn't have a better game in Game 4 than he had in Games 2 and 3. He's allowed 12 goals on 66 shots the past two games; he gave up 21 goals on 379 shots in his first 13 games.

The Lightning have done an excellent job of creating breakdowns in front of Lundqvist, but they've also got him shaking his head. Lundqvist questioned his positioning and timing, and gave an indication that he was second-guessing himself after Game 3.

"Well, 12 goals in two games, of course you're going to question some things," Lundqvist said. "But I have a lot of confidence in myself and the way I play and the way we play as a team."

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he isn't buying the notion that Lundqvist truly questioned himself at any point.

"He, to me, has paved his way probably into the Hall of Fame at some point," Cooper said. "If he's questioning himself, I don't know; to me that would probably be a little bit of a ploy. I don't think he questions himself. I think he knows he's good."

LIGHTNING

1. Tighten up defensively

While the hockey world is abuzz about the Lightning's offense and the fact that they have scored 12 goals on Lundqvist the past two games using their dynamic speed and skill, inside Tampa Bay's dressing room the focus is on stopping the Rangers' offense.

Lost in the commotion of the hectic and fun Game 3 is the fact that New York scored five goals for the first time in 15 playoff games, after averaging two goals per game in the first 14 games.

As much as the media and fans are focused on the Lightning's six goals, the Lightning are focused on the fact that they needed six goals to win Game 3.

"That doesn't happen too often," Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman. "We relied a little bit too much [on the offense]."

Stralman said he thought at least three of the goals the Rangers scored were preventable because they were a result of Lightning mistakes. Two of them came on the power play and one on a bad line change.

"We know we're not going to score six every night," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We've done it twice now and we expect a closer game tonight, their best shot. We can't get sucked into thinking that we can score six every night. We have to focus on our own net and make sure we take care of that. We know we have offensive skills and power up front but we have to focus on our own net and make sure we play well there."

2. Better penalty kill

The Rangers' power play has gotten hot after being somewhat stagnant through the first 10 games in the playoffs. They're 4-for-9 in the past two games and 6-for-18 in the past five games. They needed two shots to score two power-play goals in Game 3. They scored two goals on 13 shots in five power-play opportunities in Game 2.

"Them clicking around 50 percent on the power play is not good enough," Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn said.

The Lightning gave Rangers center Derick Brassard time and space to wind up and take a shot from the left circle for his power-play goal at 1:02 of the first period of Game 2. The Rangers had excellent rotation and puck movement leading to defenseman Ryan McDonagh's goal from the lower part of the right circle at 2:28 of the third period.

3. Hedman leads the way

For as much talk as there has been in the playoffs about Tampa Bay's forwards, Cooper said it's Hedman who provides the spark for the Lightning.

"When Victor is going, usually our team is going," Cooper said. "He's a big part of what starts us and makes us go 200 feet."

Hedman has been the sparkplug to the Lightning's offense in the past two games. He's been determined when he gets the puck and dynamic as he rushes it up the ice. He has gotten into the offense and created scoring chances. He has four assists in the series, including two in Game 3, when he played 28:26.

Tampa Bay's forwards are fast, but part of the reason the team plays with so much speed is because of what Hedman does from the back end. That obviously can't change now.

"You watch how explosive he is," Cooper said. "He's one guy on the ice that could ice the puck and beat it out himself. He can lead the rush and be the first guy back. It's just his explosiveness I've watched in his game. It's like shooting him out of a cannon. We're in an even-man rush, and all of a sudden it's an odd-man rush because here comes Victor."

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