Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
TAMPA, Fla. - The Rangers are in trouble, and not simply because they trail the Eastern Conference finals, two games to one.
They are in trouble because of the manner in which they have fallen behind -- caught in a sudden Lightning storm that has them desperately seeking shelter.
For the second game in a row, the Tampa Bay offensive machine that led the NHL in scoring during the regular season did its thing against the Blueshirts, this time to the tune of a wild, 6-5 overtime victory last night in Game 3 at Amalie Arena.
Give the Rangers credit for bouncing back to tie it after blowing a 2-0 lead and then falling behind 4-2 and 5-4 -- and for their highest scoring output in 15 playoff games -- but give them demerits for a number of defensive breakdowns.
Even King Henrik Lundqvist himself looked ordinary in giving up six goals for a second consecutive game, following up a save on a J.T. Brown breakaway in overtime with being beaten to his stick side on Nikita Kucherov's game-winner 3:33 in.
When it was over Lundqvist sat slumped deep in his locker in the visiting dressing room, staring into space until team president Glen Sather came by to whisper a few (presumably) encouraging words.
He acknowledged he has to be better next time. "It was a tough one," he said.
But the same goes for everyone else who had a hand in allowing the Tampa Bay buzz saw to shred the defense again.
"We can't give up six goals and expect to get much done," Derek Stepan said. "We have to figure out a way to limit their scoring, make that adjustment and move on. You're not going to have very much success if you're giving up six goals."
Captain Ryan McDonagh said he was far more pleased with how the team performed than in a 6-2 loss in Game 2 that left him livid. But happy he was not.
"Obviously you can't expect to win a lot of games when you're giving up that many [goals]," he said. "They're a very opportunistic team and a team that has great chemistry, obviously."
The Lightning outshot the Rangers, 40-28, with nine shots from Alex Killorn alone. And this time they didn't need as much help as they did Monday from their power play. Five of the goals came at even strength.
Most notably, their big names again delivered, with a goal from captain Steven Stamkos, two from Ondrej Palat, a 12th of the postseason for Tyler Johnson and finally Kucherov.
The Rangers? Well, Jesper Fast scored twice, which was nice, and Dan Boyle tied it with 1:56 left in regulation time. Rick Nash? Um, no. Martin St. Louis? Not exactly.
Playing his first playoff game as a visitor in his old home arena, St. Louis failed to register a shot on goal and remains tied in playoff goals with Martin Van Buren and Martin Short and Martin Brodeur.
Where do the Rangers go from here? Well, certainly the series is not over. And they did again display both their talent and gumption in rallying when it appeared they were about to be run out of the building.
But something must be done to slow the Lightning or this thing could be over before it returns here for Game 6.
"We have to stick to the game plan and play our way," said Dan Girardi, who with his partner McDonagh watched Kucherov split them and fire a wrist shot from the slot that eluded Lundqvist.
"We have to make them play a 200-foot game, that's the biggest thing."
As recently as Game 1, the Rangers were being lauded for their consistently solid defense, which to that point had produced a 2-1 final nine times in 13 playoff games.
Last night, that seemed like ancient history.