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Rangers can't take advantage of Lightning's overaggressiveness

Henrik Lundqvist #30 and Martin St. Louis #26

Henrik Lundqvist #30 and Martin St. Louis #26 of the New York Rangers react after giving up a goal in the first period to Tyler Johnson #9 of the Tampa Bay Lightning 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 / Alex Trautwig

The Lightning wanted to be more physical and more engaged in Game 2. Tampa Bay succeeded and tied up the Eastern Conference finals, but not in any sort of conventional way.

No one would think handing the Rangers five power plays in the first 34 minutes of the game would be the right way to announce your willingness to battle. In fact, it would seem like a sure way to fall behind.

That the Rangers couldn't take advantage wasn't necessarily a failing of their power play, which went a more-than-respectable 2-for-5 in Game 2. No, the parade to the box helped the Lightning because it took the Rangers out of their playoff comfort zone, in which they like to beat teams with quickness and strength five-on-five.

There was so little five-on-five through the first two periods that the Rangers' structure got lost along the way. Tyler Johnson's hat trick -- one shorthanded goal, one power-play goal and one rebound goal off a three-on-one at even strength -- came from the young Tampa Bay star's creativity, but he had room to maneuver thanks to uncharacteristic Rangers mistakes and an inability by the home team to generate any consistency.

And that, somehow, stemmed from the Lightning's overzealous desire to play tough.

"With power plays and penalty kills, you can really build momentum off those," Alex Killorn said. "They score on that five-on-three early and they'll build some and get off to a great start. Instead, Johnny gets the [four-on-five] goal and it really changed things for us."

"You don't expect that," Steven Stamkos said. "You expect to get a boost by killing off the two-man advantage, not by scoring a goal."

Johnson's goal was a gift, a mess of a play by Martin St. Louis during a 67-second two-man power play early in the first period. If St. Louis hadn't stepped on the puck and sent Johnson in alone, and if the Rangers had converted, the Lightning could have been staring at a 2-0 series deficit.

Unlikely, though. The Rangers never really played their style Monday night, even when they had a host of good chances to pull even late in the second and early in the third. For a team that loves the tight games, when Game 2 was close, they were out of sync too much to really feel they had a shot.

"I felt we worked hard but I don't think we were very smart," Henrik Lundqvist said after allowing six goals.

The Rangers have been the smarter team for two postseasons now, utilizing all of their skills to eke out razor-thin margins against teams with more offensive skill.

When they break down and try to play a more stationary game -- as one does with the man advantage or against it -- they don't seem quite as smart.

There likely won't be another game this series with 11 power plays -- seven had been the most the Rangers saw in any previous playoff game -- so perhaps it won't be an issue again.

But the Rangers succeed when they are structured and cycling through four lines, skating at both ends of the ice to frustrate teams that are a bit slower and a bit less savvy.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper wanted his team to play a more physical Game 2, essentially having called out his players for being soft and somewhat disengaged in the series opener.

"Instead of the first game of the conference finals, it was like Game 53, and we can't play it like that," he said before Game 2.

The Lightning succeeded by disrupting the Rangers' flow Monday night, even if Tampa Bay took a few undisciplined penalties to get there. Not exactly how Cooper drew it up, but . . .

"If the game plan was to win the game," he said, "then we got it right."

New York Sports