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Lightning makes Rangers pay for their lack of discipline

Tyler Johnson #9 of the Tampa Bay Lightning

Tyler Johnson #9 of the Tampa Bay Lightning scores a goal in the first period against Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 18, 2015. Credit: Getty Images / Bruce Bennett

So it turns out the Lightning is what we thought it was. That is potentially ominous news for the Rangers.

It was for one game at least, as the visitors from Tampa gave a demonstration of the firepower that made them the top-scoring team in the NHL, winning Game 2 of the conference finals, 6-2, on Monday night.

Six! That is more than triple the goals per game Henrik Lundqvist had been allowing in the playoffs.

"They showed why they're a good team," he said.

The lopsided loss came as a shock to the Rangers, who had made a habit of close, low-scoring games this spring, including a 2-1 victory in Game 1 -- and it left them angry at themselves for making things easier on the Lightning.

Before the game, they spoke of avoiding unnecessary penalties against a particularly potent power play. Then they took seven penalties, and the Lightning scored three power-play goals. So much for that.

"Our guys better figure it out quickly here and realize that stupid, selfish penalties are going to cost us against this team," said captain Ryan McDonagh, who was furious, and who was one of the few Rangers who bothered to speak to reporters afterward.

Said Derek Stepan: "We talked about it. We're in the Eastern Conference finals. We're not playing in December. We're not playing a team that's got a bad power play. This is a really good power play.

"It's a really good hockey team and you see how detailed you have to be in the playoffs. You make some mistakes and they end up in the back of your net."

Everyone who follows hockey expected the Rangers and Lightning to race up and down the ice after series in which the Penguins and Capitals did all they could to slow down the Blueshirts.

And sure enough, Game 2 featured more of the wide-open spaces in which the Lightning thrives, even as Tampa Bay got more physical with the Rangers than in Game 1.

The star of the show was Tyler Johnson of the "Triplets" line. He scored the first three Tampa Bay goals, one each shorthanded, on a power play and at even strength.

But the even worse news for the Rangers might have been the late power-play goal by the Lightning's biggest star, Steven Stamkos. If he gets going in addition to the Triplets, the Bolts will prove difficult to contain on their home ice in Games 3 and 4.

Johnson, 24, whom many consider a younger incarnation of similarly height-challenged former Lightning star and current Ranger Martin St. Louis, now has 11 in the playoffs.

St. Louis still hasn't scored a playoff goal this year.

Despite it all, the Rangers nearly tied the score at 3, but the Lightning's Ben Bishop made a huge pad save on Jesper Fast. Soon thereafter, it was 4-2.

"At this time of the year, obviously you're playing really good teams," Lundqvist said. "You can play really well, you can play really hard, but if you don't play smart, you're not going to win.

"Taking that many penalties against a team that has a really good power play, it's just not going to work."

That's indisputable, but the Rangers are kidding themselves if they think that is their only concern. They need to play the kind of overall defense they did in Game 1 to corral Tampa Bay's array of scorers.

No one said this was going to be easy. Why would it be for a team that seems to be allergic to taking 2-0 series leads at home?

Now the series is guaranteed to come back to the Garden for Game 5 on Sunday. That's good, because the Rangers' fans deserve better next time.

"They had some good pressure and you have to give them credit, for sure," McDonagh said, "but we didn't control much with the way we were undisciplined . . . We can't afford to do it again, that's the main thing."


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