TAMPA, Fla. - It's all a little surreal. The Rangers, who had averaged two goals a game in 14 previous playoff games this spring, scored five times Wednesday night. But the defense, which had been so strong throughout the postseason, wilted again. And for the second consecutive playoff game, Henrik Lundqvist allowed six goals.
The result was a 6-5 overtime loss in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final, giving the Lightning a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Nikita Kucherov's wrister zipped past Lundqvist's stick at 3:33 of overtime, capping a seesaw match at Amalie Arena in which the Rangers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, only to have the Lightning rebound and grab a 4-2 lead in the second. Then it was the Rangers' turn to rally. A late second-period goal by Jesper Fast, his second of the game, trimmed the margin to 4-3, Ryan McDonagh tied it early in the third, and when losing, 5-4, Dan Boyle scored to force overtime with 1:56 left in regulation.
But the Rangers couldn't complete the comeback, as two of their big guns during the season, Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis, didn't hit the scoresheet again.
"We were definitely off our checks a handful of times to an opportunistic team and a team that has great finish," McDonagh said. "There's nowhere else to go but to continue to work hard here, continue to push, continue to play to our strengths as consistent as we can throughout the game. It's 2-1, the series isn't over yet."
Game 4 is here Friday night with the series shifting to the Garden for Game 5 Sunday.
Ondrej Palat scored twice for the Lightning, including one at 14:05 of the third for a 5-4 lead, as Tampa Bay's speed and elusiveness came to the forefront again as it had 40 shots on goal.
"I need to be more consistent," said Lundqvist, who appeared to have trouble tracking the puck at times and gave up six goals in consecutive games for the first time since the second and third games of the regular season in October.
The line known as the "Triplets" -- Kucherov, Palat and Tyler Johnson -- have seven goals and seven assists in the last two games.
"I don't think we need to slow down, just make the play when it's there, whoever we're on the ice against," Dan Girardi said. " . . . You can make plays, but if it's not there, get the puck deep and make then come 200 feet, come all the way through all five guys."
That clearly didn't happen enough.
The Rangers sped out to a 2-0 lead in the first. Derick Brassard beat Ben Bishop (23 saves) on a power play at 1:02.
A collision between Derek Stepan and Matt Carle forced the Lightning defenseman to head for the bench and Chris Kreider fed Fast, who broke in alone. The rookie lifted his left leg to fake a shot, and put a backhander past the goalie at 9:55 for his second playoff goal.
But a turnover and Lundqvist's bad decision allowed the Lightning to halve the lead. Steven Stamkos stripped Boyle in the Tampa zone and headed down ice with Alex Killorn. Brassard caught up with Alex Killorn, who flubbed the shot, but Lundqvist poked the sliding puck right to Stamkos, who scored at 11:07.
With the score at 2, the defense fell asleep again. Johnson, unguarded by Kreider in front, deposited a pass from Palat, which went through Kevin Klein and past Lundqvist at 13:17. Killorn, who had nine shots, slowed down on a rush, deked, and when Marc Staal and Boyle fell, zipped a shot high glove side to extend the lead to 4-2 at 17:18.
"I thought we showed a lot of character coming back," coach Alain Vigneault said. "We got a little unfortunate on the game-winner."
And now it's back to the drawing board.