Go ahead and label Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals the feel-good edition for the New York Rangers. All the goats of games past came to the trough and ate well in a 5-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday at Amalie Arena — a game that evened this series at 2-2.
Rick Nash doubled his postseason goal total with two markers, including a breakaway goal that gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead. He added an assist.
Defenseman Keith Yandle, the team’s key trade-deadline acquisition, delivered on the promise of offensive production for a second straight game with a goal and two assists. Yandle has five points in the last two games and, lo and behold, the Rangers have scored 10 times in those contests.
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Even 39-year-old Martin St. Louis got in on the action, scoring his first goal of the postseason as New York piled on in the third period to remind everyone that it was the league’s third-highest scoring team during the regular season.
At the other end, goalie Henrik Lundqvist shook off a pair of abysmal performances and some public introspection to stone-wall the Lightning with the help of a pair of posts.
When all the cylinders are clicking, New York is an easy-to-envision Cup contender. Now it’s a three-game series with the home-ice advantage back in the Rangers’ favor and some long missing offensive stars back in action.
"For the past while here, they’ve been answering questions about their offensive production, and for them to score a couple tonight for us, to finally have a little bit of breathing room here and not be one of those tight one-goal games, is obviously very positive," coach Alain Vigneault said.
Play of the day: Rangers right wing Nash served notice in the first period that today would be a new day. Nash scored on a breakaway — unlike the many chances he had failed to convert earlier in this postseason — to stake the Rangers to a 1-0 lead and produce just his third goal in 16 playoff games (he added another later).
Turning point: Less than four minutes after Steven Stamkos tied the game and ignited the Lightning crowd, Rangers forward Chris Kreider banged in a rebound at 15:16 of the second period and Yandle scored off Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman’s right leg at 17:04 to send the Rangers into the intermission with major momentum and a 3-1 lead.
1. Rick Nash, RW, New York. Two goals and an assist. Pressure relieved.
2. Henrik Lundqvist, G, New York. Lundqvist stopped 38 of 39 shots to bounce back big-time from back-to-back poor efforts in in which he allowed 12 total goals.
3. Keith Yandle, D, New York. Yandle had a goal and two assists while playing like the offensive catalyst the Rangers envisioned when they sent top prospect Anthony Duclair and a 2016 first-round pick to Arizona to land him at the trade deadline.
Series: Tied 2-2
Key stat: Friday’s win was New York’s first victory (out of 10) by more than one goal this postseason.
Key stat II: In its seven postseason losses, Tampa has scored seven goals (an average of one per game). In its 10 wins, it has scored 41 (4.1 per game).
Best visual: How do you slow Tampa star Tyler Johnson? How about a blatant chop to the ribs, as delivered here by New York’s Kevin Hayes.Let’s hope Hayes faces some form of punishment from the league for this cheap shot. It has no place in the game.
Best at being worst: Tampa goalie Ben Bishop allowed five goals on 24 New York shots and has surrendered 10 goals on the last 52 shots he’s faced. Bishop only allowed as many as five goals once during the regular season (Feb. 12 vs. St. Louis). Now he’s done it in back-to-back games.
Best quote: "It’s tough to have a period like we did in the second period. Nine times out of 10, you’re coming out with the lead, probably by multiple goals. Instead, you come out of that like you lose the period. It doesn’t happen very often." — Tampa coach Jon Cooper of a second period in which Tampa outshot New York 19-6 but was outscored 2-1.
Best quote II: Yandle, when asked if he was surprised by Lundqvist’s response to back-to-back poor efforts: "Nah. He’s a stud."
What we learned: The offensive possibilities that two of the league’s top three scoring teams promised have finally been realized. Tampa only scored once on Friday, but the Lightning blew a ton of great chances early, including a post by Johnson and three grade-A chances by Alex Killorn. That’s going to happen from time to time, but Tampa outshot New York 39-24. It appears the tenor of this series has been set. Skating, skill and scoring will carry the day, and that’s a great thing for hockey fans.
Next game: Game 5, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET at Madison Square Garden.
Final thought: Chicago received some potentially good news for its beleaguered and overworked defensive corps. Rookie Trevor van Riemsdyk began skating with the club on Friday. While he is unlikely to play in Game 4 against Anaheim on Saturday in Chicago, he could return after that if his surgically repaired wrist is willing. It’s been a tough year for TVR. He was the surprise of training camp, making the team over more highly touted prospects. His role kept increasing with strong defensive play until he suffered a fractured kneecap when he was struck by a shot against the Dallas Stars on Nov. 16. Upon his return, he had three assists in eight games for Chicago’s AHL affiliate in Rockford before the wrist injury. He was supposed to be out eight weeks after April 7 surgery but is a week and a half ahead of schedule. Chicago’s top four defensemen — Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya — are logging heavy minutes in the absence of Michal Rozsival, who suffered a fractured ankle in the series-clinching win over Minnesota. Clearly, van Riemsdyk’s return would be a huge boost.