Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.
TAMPA, Fla. - There were things the Rangers wanted to do against the high-flying Lightning in Game 4 to try to slow Tampa Bay down. Make better reads off the rush, for one. Know the assignments in the defensive zone, for another.
It didn't go according to plan in the Rangers' end, other than Henrik Lundqvist rebounding from a pair of ugly outings. In the Tampa Bay end, however, the Rangers were much more on point, using their forecheck to cause problems behind the Lightning net and driving pucks and bodies right at Ben Bishop in front of the goal. That led to the Rangers' most secure victory of the postseason, even if it included a few harrowing moments.
"We gave them a few things, breakaways and a couple chances on the PK, but I thought overall we were great. Just way better," Marc Staal said. "They had a lot of shots , but they were shooting everything, a lot outside the hash marks. And we cycled way better with the puck, we tired them out, made them defend. Just better."
And outside of Lundqvist, it started with Rick Nash. The power forward spent the great majority of the regular season using his strength and ability to shield the puck from defenders to drive to the net, and his 42 goals reflected just how well he'd been able to do that all season long.
But the postseason has been a very different story for Nash. Through the first three games of the Eastern Conference finals, he'd been pulling up on the rush, not powering toward Bishop. Even his breakaways in Games 1 and 2 seemed passive, if that's possible.
His game-opening goal last night was vintage. He got a head of steam at center ice, blew past forward Cedric Paquette, who was covering for a pinching defenseman, and reached to bank a shot off the post, off Bishop's skate and in.
Nash capped the scoring with another show of strength, hanging in tight behind 6-8 Tampa Bay defenseman Andrej Sustr to sweep in a rebound to make it 5-1.
Bishop had traffic in front of him all night. Nash's second goal, Chris Kreider's go-ahead score late in the second and Keith Yandle's bank shot off Victor Hedman's shin in the second all came about because of the problems the Rangers caused for Bishop in front of the goal.
"It's natural to grip your stick a little tighter, to not see the ice as well as you normally do when you're struggling," Nash said.
And as so often happens in this sport at this time of year, there was simply some luck on the Rangers' side.
Nikita Kucherov had a golden chance off a faceoff early on, left alone by a wandering Kreider. But Kucherov, the Game 6 overtime hero, duck-hooked his shot over Lundqvist and the net from 15 feet. Tyler Johnson had a similarly golden chance on the power play later in the first and rang his shot off the crossbar. Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat had breakaways in the second period. Steven Stamkos buried one of his chances, a ripper from the slot, but he also flubbed a good one later in that second period.
"You take those bounces," said Martin St. Louis, who also got off the playoff schneid. "That's a team that can erupt at any moment."
So it wasn't perfect. It was a better effort, and sometimes in the postseason, that's all you need to square a series.