Palat scores late, Lightning beat Rangers in Game 3

TAMPA, Florida. – Just when it appeared the New York Rangers might be ready to push Tampa Bay to the brink of elimination, two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning showed they were far from having ended.

Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos scored to erase a two-goal deficit, and Ondrej Palat completed a dramatic comeback with the 10th playoff-winning goal of his career on Sunday in a 3-2 win that cut Rangers’ lead in the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-1.

“We’ve been to places like this,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “A big thing for us was, we felt like we had a recipe, we just had to stick to it. I think there were times in the show where we tried to make things that weren’t there. who put us on our heels, gave up on opportunities. Whether it was a break, whatever it was, we were out of sync.”

Palat scored with 42 seconds left, on a fine back pass from Kucherov, to cap a rally that began after Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider scored power-play goals in just over two minutes to put Rangers up 2-0 in the second period.

Facing the prospect of falling behind 3-0 in a series that began with a pair of road losses, the Lightning fought back with Kucherov scoring on the power play in the second period and Stamkos firing a shot past goaltender Igor Shesterkin from the left. circle at the beginning of the third.

“We were down 2-0, and I don’t want to sit here and say we didn’t deserve to be down 2-0 because their power play was great….. But our 5-on-5 game I liked it, and so we just had to stick with that and stay out of the box,” Cooper said.

“I think maybe years ago — three or four years ago — maybe the panic would have set in at some point, but not with this group. The power play got us started, and then we took off from there. ‘been there before’ has really helped our mindset in games.”

Kucherov had one goal and two assists.

Stamkos also had a multi-point game, with a goal and an assist. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 28 shots after being edged by Shesterkin in Games 1 and 2.

“They were the better team tonight,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “He went all the way and had a chance to win late. … Disappointing, but we’ll move on and prepare for the next one.”

Game 4 is Tuesday night, with Tampa Bay even seeking the best of seven series and New York still able to move within a win of its first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals since 2014.

Artemi Panarin had two assists for the Rangers, and Adam Fox and Zibanejad had lead assists on power-play goals resulting from a pair of penalties fired by Shesterkin in the second period.

Tampa Bay’s Corey Perry was whistled for cutting first, and Riley Nash went to the penalty box for interference before Kreider’s goal made it 2-0 midway through the period.

Despite costly penalties that helped the Lightning get back in the game and ultimately unable to hold the lead, Gallant didn’t feel like the Rangers had let the game slip away.

“No, I didn’t feel that. Honestly. It was 2-0, there was a lot of hockey left and they were playing well,” the New York coach said. “They were jumping. They were forcing us to make mistakes that we hadn’t made in the previous two games. … I wouldn’t say we let it get away because they played really well. But we could have stolen it tonight and were leading 3-0.”

Cooper cited poor puck management and a lack of sense of urgency as factors in Tampa Bay starting the series slowly after a nine-day layoff the defending champions won with a second-round sweep of the Panthers from Florida, winners of the Presidents’ Trophy.

None of those issues were once the Lightning fell behind by two goals on Sunday.

Shesterkin finished with 48 saves but Rangers squandered a chance to regain control of the game when Kucherov took a four-minute penalty for Zibanejad with just over nine minutes remaining.

In fact, New York lost the men’s advantage when Jacob Trouba was later penalized for tripping Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn.

Shesterkin made save after save to keep Rangers from falling behind but failed to raise his glove high enough to stop the Palat winner.

“Third period for us just wasn’t good enough,” Fox said. “We were on our heels the whole time. Eventually they’re going to get one, and they did.”

Tampa Bay, which hadn’t lost a straight playoff game in three years before losing Games 1 and 2 at Madison Square Garden, rallied from a 3-2 deficit to win its first-round series against Toronto in seven games.

REMARKS: Lightning Brayden Point missed their sixth straight game with a lower-body injury. He hasn’t played since leaving the roster in Tampa Bay’s Game 7 win over Toronto in the first round. … Rangers striker Ryan Strome left with an early injury, ending up playing just over seven minutes. … The Rangers lost to the Lightning for the first time this season. They entered Sunday 5-0 against the defending champion, with three of the victories coming during the regular season. … New York is 8-1 at home in the playoffs to 2-6 on the road.

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