Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (18) reacts after...

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (18) reacts after scoring past Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) during the third period in Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals Sunday, June 5, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. Credit: AP/Chris O'Meara

TAMPA, Fla. — The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions weren’t about to go down so easily.

Ondrej Palat’s goal with 41.6 seconds left in the third period gave the Tampa Bay Lightning a stunning 3-2 comeback win over the Rangers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final on Sunday afternoon at Amalie Arena.

The Lightning rallied from a 2-0 deficit with three straight goals, two on the power play, to avoid falling into a 3-0 hole in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Tuesday night at Amalie Arena.

Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov set up the winner when he made a nifty feed to Palat, who beat Igor Shesterkin (48 saves) inside the near post. Shesterkin was stellar, especially in the first two periods, when he stopped 31 of 32 shots. But he allowed two in the third as the Lightning put another 19 shots on goal.

“They were the better team tonight overall, but . . . it went way down to the wire, and we had a chance to win late in the hockey game,’’ Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “So it’s disappointing, but we’ll move on and get ready for the next one.’’

The Rangers finished the game without center Ryan Strome, who left in the third period. Strome appeared to be injured after taking a cross-check to the back early in the second period by Palat. The cross-check itself didn’t appear to be that severe, but Strome’s right knee appeared to hyperextend. He grabbed the knee for a moment, immediately left the ice in pain and headed to the locker room, leaving his stick on the ice.

He returned later in the period and played a few shifts, then played two shifts in the second period before leaving again.

After the game, Gallant said he did not have a report on Strome but will know more on Monday. Officially, he left the game with a lower-body injury.

“Stromer is a big piece,’’ linemate Andrew Copp said. “It’s a huge loss. Everyone kind of has to step up. Hopefully he’s not out too long.’’

Both goalies — Shesterkin and Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy (28 saves) — were spectacular in the scoreless first period, but a spate of penalties early in the second period ended up producing goals for each team.

Upon exiting the box after serving an interference penalty, Mika Zibanejad drove home a one-timer from the left circle for a power-play goal — his 10th goal of the playoffs — to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead at 7:37 of the second period.

With Tampa Bay’s Corey Perry serving a slashing penalty against Shesterkin, Chris Kreider converted a rebound of another Zibanejad one-timer to make it 2-0 at 9:44.

It was a milestone goal for Kreider, who tied Rod Gilbert for most playoff goals in Rangers history with 34.

Then Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba took the first of what would be three minor penalties for him on the day, an interference call against Palat, and the Lightning cashed in on a goal by Kucherov on a right-circle one-timer at 10:50.

Trouba’s second penalty, a holding call against Anthony Cirelli 37 seconds into the third period, led to Steven Stamkos’ tying goal at 1:22.

“We took advantage of some [Tampa Bay] penalties early and got that lead, and then took some penalties ourselves, and you know, they’re a skilled team. They’re going to capitalize,’’ Adam Fox said.

“Obviously, we played on our heels too much in the third,’’ Copp said. “You’ve just got to keep that even-keel mentality on the bench and understand it’s kind of a 0-0 hockey game in the third, and continue to push and try and get that next goal. Because once we start sitting on our heels, it’s tough to get going again.’’

The Rangers had a golden chance in a 2-2 game after Kucherov was called for a double-minor with 9:04 left in the third period. He got his stick up in Zibanejad’s face and the Rangers had a four-minute power play. But Trouba’s third penalty, a tripping call on Alex Killorn to prevent a shorthanded scoring chance, short-circuited the Rangers’ power play.

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