The victory was New York’s seventh straight home playoff win, the longest single playoff streak in franchise history.
The Rangers’ postseason motto is “No quit in New York” and they showed that Wednesday night. Their first two goals were soon matched by the Lightning, including Ondrej Palat‘s, which came 42 seconds after Frank Vatrano gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead in the second period.
But that was the closest the Lightning would be in Game 1 as New York scored three times in the second period to open the game up. Chytil’s two goals came in a span of 5:34, both assisted by Alexis Lafrenière, and Andrew Copp and Mika Zibanejad scored in the third to put the cherry on top of a dominant win to begin the series.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, who hadn’t allowed more than a single goal in each of his previous five playoff starts, was in net for all six goals and had to listen to the Madison Square Garden crowd chant “Igor’s better!” multiple times during Game 1. The Lightning netminder didn’t get help from his teammates, who showed signs of rust after a nine-day layoff following their Second Round win over the Florida Panthers.
Mistakes, there were plenty from the Lightning, and the Rangers, who didn’t have time for much rest after winning Game 7 over the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday, took advantage.
On Chytil’s second goal, which gave the Rangers a 4-2 lead, Tampa Bay ended up pinned in their own zone. As Anthony Cirelli‘s clearing attempt was caught at the blue line by Adam Fox, it led to lots of Rangers movement within the offensive zone, and Chytil ultimately made them pay following a cross-ice pass from K'Andre Miller.
“He’s growing up to be a man,” said Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant of Chytil. “Every time he goes out there, he’s more confident. He’s stronger. He’s growing up.”
But it’s only Game 1, and that’s fine if you’re the Lightning. Over the last three seasons the defending back-to-back Cup champions are 18-0 following a postseason loss. You can be sure Gallant and the Rangers are aware of that stat and will fully expect a much better effort from their opponents on Friday night.
“A lot of sharpness. Our team just kept going. We got a day off and kept playing,” said Gallant in describing his team’s play. “Obviously, [the Lightning] looked rusty.”
Point remains out
There was a bit of promising news for the Lightning on Wednesday. Forward Brayden Point, who has been out since Game 7 of the First Round with a lower-body injury, skated at MSG on his own. He did drills following the team’s optional skate ahead of Game 1 but there is still no timeline on when he might be available to return to the lineup.
“‘Pointer’ is playing hockey again,” said head coach Jon Cooper. “We just don’t know whether it’s this season, next season, this round, if we’re fortunate enough to win this round … can he play the next one? We don’t know that. Is he improving daily? He is. I think the worst of it is over for him.”
Point had two goals and four points before suffering the injury in the series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s been a valuable member of the Lightning in their last two Stanley Cup runs, recording 56 points in 46 playoff games.
“If he gets to play in this series, that’s a bonus for everybody,” Cooper said. “It’s great to have him around with our group. He is a big part of our group. But guys are focused on who’s in and ready now.”
NEW YORK RANGERS v. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (NYR leads 1-0)
Game 1 – June 1: Rangers 6, Lightning 2
Game 2 – June 3: Lightning at Rangers, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS)
Game 3 – June 5: Rangers at Lightning, 3 p.m. ET (ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS)
Game 4 – June 7: Rangers at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS)
*Game 5 – June 9: Lightning at Rangers, 8 p.m. ET, (ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS)
*Game 6 – June 11: Rangers at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET, (ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS)
*Game 7 – June 14: Lightning at Rangers, 8 p.m. ET, (ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS)
* If necessary