So much for a Rangers sweep. For one night, try a weep.
Heading to Tampa Bay tied in the Eastern Conference Final at one game apiece, the Blueshirts have plenty to wonder about before Game Three on Wednesday night at Amalie Arena.
Right now, the distance between jubilation and desperation can be measured by Lightning elation and Rangers hesitation.
That distance also can be measured by Tampa Bay’s shock-and-awe 6-2 victory in Game Two on Monday night at The Garden.
Suddenly, the New Yorkers have someone to worry about whose name isn’t Alex Ovechkin. The new compact-sized threat is Tyler Johnson.
As they head South, the Rangers also must deduce how their game disintegrated in the third period when the visitors captured the contest with three unanswered goals.
Remarkably, it’s a gifted forward — born, bred and hockey-nurtured in Spokane, Washington — named Johnson who ripped the Rangers. One of the tiniest — if not the smallest — of NHLers, Johnson played like a Gulliver, dominating Henrik Lundqvist with a three-goal hat trick.
“You just have to wipe the slate clean,” said Lundqvist. “It’s a tied series and we’re going to Tampa. A lot of the games will come down to making good decisions”
Bolts coach Jon Cooper insisted that it was the Bolts early penalty-killing and continuous physical play that turned the game in his club’s favor.
“In Game Two,” Cooper asserted, “our will was what won the game for us. In Game One, we participated in a hockey game. In Game Two, we came to win a hockey game.”
Well, that and the amazing little Johnson.
“The bigger the game,” added Cooper, “the better he plays. That’s Tyler Johnson. Winning follows that kid.”
Can the Rangers rebound in Game Three at Amalie Arena on Wednesday night? Check out these dozen BEST, WORST AND MOST UNUSUAL topics and you’ll have a better idea what happened in New York’s dis-favor and has to happen in the Blueshirts favor.
- BEST EARLY TURNING POINT PLAY: With the score tied a zip-zip, the Rangers enjoyed a 5-on-3 power play. This was a chance to jump on the lead and thoroughly discourage the visitors. Instead, ubiquitous Johnson beat Martin St. Louis to the puck, broke away and then sunk the rebound left by Lundqvist. This was a terrific morale-booster for the Bolts.
- BEST FIRST PERIOD SAVE: Minutes after his first goal, the Bolts’ Tyler Johnson drove past the Rangers usually reliable Marc Staal, but Lundqvist’s left pad defused the dynamic thrust.
- WORST FIRST PERIOD REFEREE’S CALL: With the Blueshirts on the power play, the officials blew the whistle far too soon with the puck loose between Ben Bishop’s pads. The unnecessarily quick whistle ended what would have been a dandy Rangers scoring chance. It was an awful call at a critical comeback time for New York.
- WORST REBOUND BY A GOALIE: On the Rangers’ third power play of the first period, Bishop coughed up a juicy rebound from a Dan Boyle shot; Chris Kreider banged home the puck to tie the game.
- BEST TEAM 5-ON-5 FOR TWO PERIODS: The Rangers, but not on the score sheet.
- BEST SAVE OF THE SECOND PERIOD: Early in the frame, Lundqvist fought off a point shot from Andrej Sustr and then denied a surging Johnson on the rebound.
- MOST UNUSUAL BEN BISHOP SECRET REVEALED: The Lightning goalie hits his knees as soon as there’s sustained pressure in Tampa Bay’s defensive zone. Beating him square off the rush is difficult because there’s virtually no net to shoot at. BB gets beaten by traffic which forces him to try to stop the puck going laterally.
- MOST UNUSUAL UNKNOWN-TO-KNOWN RANGER: Quick, but who expected Jesper Fast to become so effective so fast? He debuted in the NHL last season and nobody heard a peep about him. This swift Swede is fast becoming a Blueshirt hero.
- MOST UNUSUAL JON COOPER RESPONSE TO A REPORTER: When someone asked the Tampa Bay coach about his club’s “depth,” the Bolts boss shot back, “You kind of answered your own question a little bit.” (The reporter has at least three more games to figure out what that’s all about.)
- BEST COMEBACK OF AN INJURED PLAYER: Ex-Ranger Brian Boyle took a regular turn, killed penalties and was an overall inspiration for his Lightning teammates. His injury had been a well-kept secret — and still is — until his return on Monday night.
- BEST LITTLE GUY ON THE ICE: Tyler Johnson scores the first Tampa Bay playoff hat trick. The record book lists him at 5-8, 183 pounds. That 5-8 must be while wearing his ice skates. By the way, Mighty Mouse also was the best any size player on the ice.
- BEST VERSATILE RANGER: Derek Stepan was a penalty-killing threat; power play scorer and, as usual, fine at 5-on-5.
4 WAYS FOR THE RANGERS TO GET BACK ON TRACK WEDNESDAY NIGHT IN TAMPA:
1. Shadow Tyler Johnson every minute Mighty Mouse is on the ice.
2. Score the first goal; second and third as well. Then worry about protecting the dreaded three-goal lead.
3. Henrik Lundqvist has to shake off a clunker and re-find his game. Pronto!
4. The Blueshirts require better penalty-killing. Make that much better penalty-killing.
“You can play really well,” Lundqvist concluded. “You can play really hard. But if you don’t play smart (avoiding foolish penalties) you’re not going to win.”