TAMPA, Fla. ( Associated Press) — There’s no panic in the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions are down 2-0 to the New York Rangers in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals but are confident they have what it takes to climb back into the best-of-seven series.
“No one is expecting us to win the final 4-0,” forward Pierre-एडdouard Bellemare said on Saturday.
Game 3 is on Sunday at Amalie Arena, after Rangers dominated the first two games at home.
Lightning coach John Cooper cited poor puck management as well as a lack of urgency in his team’s game as contributing factors to Tampa Bay losing consecutive playoff games for the first time in three years.
And while the coach was encouraged by the way his team responded during the second half of the 3-2 loss in Game 2, Cooper insisted that the defending winners were still “the better in us”.
“At some point you can lose two in a row in the playoffs. The fact that we’ve had how many years isn’t remarkable,” Cooper said after the Lightning’s NHL record of 18 consecutive wins in games came to a screeching halt on Friday night.
“Did it knock us out of the playoffs? It didn’t,” Cooper said. “Do we have a hill to climb? There’s no question.”
But Lightning feels he has the talent, as well as the resilience and leadership, to recover from a slow start to the series.
“We played with a little frustration,” said Cooper as Tampa Bay nearly erased a two-goal deficit in the closing minutes of Game 2. “For us to be back in the series, we need a lot more than that.”
Rangers have won six of their last seven matches, beating opponents 28-13. They have won 11 out of 13 series so far after taking a 2-0 lead.
The Lightning suffered a two-game deficit in the playoff series for the first time since 2019, when they lost to Columbus in the first round. They were also eliminated after going down two matches in the series in 2014 and 2018.
Rangers are two wins away from traveling to the Stanley Cup final but don’t want to raise their head.
“It’s really exciting but we were on the other side of it when we were down 2-0 (to Carolina in the second round), so I think it’s a good lesson for us not to take our foot off the gas.” Rangers forward Adam Fox said.
“I think we’ve done a better job of playing on the road as the playoffs progressed,” Fox said. “So, I think it’s important for us to try to play the same style of hockey obviously as how we’re playing on the road (at home).
New York’s kid line of Alexis Lafrenier, Filip Chitil and Kapo Kako continues to shine, and goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin beat Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevsky to help the Rangers remain unbeaten against the Lightning (5-0 including the regular season) .
“That’s untrue. … He has several highlight-reel saves in every game,” said New York’s K’Andre Miller as Shesterkin made 29 saves out of Wasilewski’s 25 in Game 2.
“Obviously, (Rangers) have a lot of confidence in him, let him do his job, by blocking shots, doing those little things, trying to limit what he sees,” Miller said. “But Shesty’s Shesty, he’s going to stop the puck.”
Despite having the upper hand in the matchup through two games, the Rangers goalkeeper is sticking to his pre-series statement that fellow Russian Vasilevsky is the best in the world at his position.
“At present I don’t think it really matters. … You can’t forget that the series is for four wins,” Shesterkin said. “We just have to keep playing.”
Associated Press Sportswriter Vin A. Cherwu in New York contributed to this report.
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