TAMPA, Fla. - This is familiar territory for the Rangers. No, not George Steinbrenner Field or The Trop or the shops selling hand-rolled cigars in the historic Ybor City neighborhood. We're talking about being tied 1-all in yet another best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series.
In the first and second rounds of this postseason, the Blueshirts were tied 1-1 with the Penguins and the Capitals and moved on. They took Game 3 in Pittsburgh and won the series in five. They lost Game 3 in Washington but prevailed in a seven-game series. And here they are again, knotted with the Lightning after a 6-2 thrashing on Monday at Madison Square Garden.
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There is more precedent: Twice last season and three times in 2012, the Rangers went to a Game 3 deadlocked. Four of those five times they won, with the only loss to Pittsburgh last year. But in none of those cases were the Blueshirts coming off a four-goal loss with plenty of meltdowns.
Take Monday's critical stick penalties for instance: What previously had been allowed by the officials was not permitted. If form holds and the Rangers are not more disciplined, the Lightning (11-for-30. 36.7 percent on the power play in the last eight games) may continue to make them pay with the man advantage.
"They can strike from a few different angles so you have to honor those different vantage points," Dominic Moore said Tuesday, "and when you do, you have to give something up, so we have to do a better job trying to close up some of those lanes."
Moreover, in what Ryan McDonagh called "a very puck-possession series," they were uncharacteristically careless. That includes Henrik Lundqvist, who hadn't allowed six goals in a playoff game since his rookie year. "They're confident in their goaltender [Ben Bishop], which permits the rest of their group to go on the attack quite a bit," said coach Alain Vigneault, "but we've got a very good goaltender also."
To be sure, the Lightning grabbed what it needed in New York, a split, and are comfortable in its building, where it won 32 games during the regular season. McDonagh agreed that a good start in Game 3 Wednesday night ordinarily might "take the crowd out of it, but at this stage, the crowd's going to be pretty energetic regardless."
The scoring woes cannot be disguised. The Rangers scored two goals again on Monday, both on the power play; in 14 playoff games, they have netted only 28 goals. Rick Nash hasn't buried his chances, and neither has Martin St. Louis. Derick Brassard had an off night on Monday. Kevin Hayes wasn't effective.
"When you score goals, you have a lot of swagger," said St. Louis, "and that really helps your game, it helps your teammates around you. So I'm trying every game to go get that swagger. Not just individually -- as a team, you've got to go out and get that swagger."
Whether they had swagger at the time or not, the Rangers have won 11 of their last 12 Game 3s on the road, going back to the Patrick Division finals against the Penguins in 1992. "The past doesn't necessarily dictate the future," said Vigneault, "but I've got a lot of confidence in this group that we can raise our level of play."