By FRED GOODALL. Associated Press
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Ondrej Palat scored with 42 seconds left and the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning beat the New York Rangers 3-2 on Sunday to cut their deficit in the Eastern Conference finals to 2-1.
Palat’s goal, off a nifty pass from Nikita Kucherov, capped a comeback that began after Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider scored power-play goals in a span of just over two minutes in the second period to put the Rangers up 2-0.
Facing the prospect of falling behind 3-0 in a series that began with a pair of losses on the road, the Lightning rallied with Kucherov scoring on the power play in the second period and Steven Stamkos blistering a shot past goalie Igor Shesterkin from the left circle early in the third.
Game 4 is Tuesday night, with New York still in a position to move within one victory of its first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals since 2014.
Andrei Vasilevskiy made 28 saves for the Lightning.
Artemi Panarin had two assists for the Rangers, and Adam Fox and Zibanejad had primary helpers on power-play goals resulting from a pair of penalties drawn by Shesterkin in the second period.
Tampa Bay’s Corey Perry was whistled for slashing on the first, and Riley Nash went to penalty box for interference before Kreider’s goal made it 2-0 midway through the period.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper cited poor puck management and the lack of a sense of urgency as factors in Tampa Bay starting the series slowly following a nine-day layoff the defending champs earned with a second-round sweep of the Presidents Trophy-winning Florida Panthers.
Neither of those were a factor once the Lightning fell behind by two goals Sunday.
Shesterkin finished with 48 saves, but the Rangers wasted an opportunity to regain control of the game when Kucherov drew a four-minute penalty for high-sticking Zibanejad with just over nine minutes left.
In fact, New York lost the man-advantage when Jacob Trouba subsequently was penalized for tripping Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn.
Shesterkin made save after save to keep the Rangers from falling behind, but couldn’t get his glove up high enough to stop Palat’s winner.
Tampa Bay, which hadn’t lost consecutive playoff games in three years before dropping 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.
The Lightning swept the Florida Panthers, who had the NHL’s best record during the regular season, before running into problems against the Rangers.
New York has demonstrated an ability to rebound from adversity in these playoffs, too.
The Rangers overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat Pittsburgh in the opening round, then rebounded from losing the first games on the road and trailing Carolina 3-2 before winning another tough seven-game series to reach the East finals.
NOTES: Lightning Brayden Point missed his sixth consecutive game with a lower body injury. He hasn’t played since leaving the lineup during Tampa Bay’s Game 7 victory over Toronto in the first round. … The Rangers lost to the Lightning for the first time this season. They entered Sunday 5-0 against the defending champ, with three of the wins coming during the regular season.