Comeback fit for a King: Lundqvist, Rangers even series in Game 4

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source: Getty Images
Getty Images

The New York Rangers were put in a tough position after goaltender Henrik Lundqvist surrendered six goals in back-to-back games. He responded with a great showing in Game 4 and his teammates were able to reward his efforts with plenty of support in a 5-1 victory Friday night.

Although the final score is unquestionably one-sided, the game arguably wasn’t. After a fairly even first period, the Lightning took off in terms of five-on-five shot attempts and scoring chances compared to the Rangers, as you can see in this chart courtesy of War on Ice:

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A big part of the reason why the Rangers won anyways was Lundqvist. He turned aside 38 of 39 shots to keep the Rangers in this game during some of their leaner stretches. Given his recent struggles, the fact that he was able to respond tonight is huge. His ability to step up when his team needs him the most is likely part of the reason head coach Alain Vigneault didn’t even consider swapping goaltenders for Friday’s contest.

The Rangers were also able to take advantage of their power-play opportunities. Markers from Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash with the man advantage in the third period provided them with plenty of breathing room. The fact that those two found the back of the net is noteworthy in itself given that both have been snakebitten for the most part in the playoffs.

Nash also scored in the first period, making this the first multi-goal postseason game of his career.

The Rangers evened the series at 2-2 and have reclaimed the home ice advantage in the process. The onus is now on Tampa Bay to win on the road, although that hasn’t been much of a problem for either team so far in this series.

Video: Slumping Nash charges hard to net, puts Rangers ahead

Rick Nash’s playoff struggles have been an ongoing topic throughout the playoffs. If he makes some more plays like he did in the first period of Game 4, then that storyline will look very dated.

After surrendering six goals in each of their last two games, the Rangers were able to hold the Lightning at bay for the opening period tonight. It was starting to look like this contest would be scoreless through 20 minutes, but Nash accepted a pass from Kevin Hayes and then charged at the net to beat goaltender Ben Bishop one-on-one:

Nash now has three goals in 16 playoff games and eight markers in 57 career postseason contests. Those numbers pale in comparison to what he’s done in the regular season, but if he’s able to heat up, then that could push the Rangers over the top in their series against Tampa Bay.

As it is, New York has its work cut out for it as it seeks to protect the lead and even this series at 2-2.

Related:

Vigneault defends Nash, but realizes they need more

Yzerman, Sather, Murray finalists for GM of the Year

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The NHL GM of the Year award has come down to Tampa Bay’s Steve Yzerman, the New York Rangers’ Glen Sather, and Anaheim’s Bob Murray.

For Murray its an opportunity to become the first general manager to win the award twice since it was first given in 2010. Anaheim won its division for the third straight year and is fighting the Chicago Blackhawks for a berth into the Stanley Cup Final.

Murray helped bring the Ducks to the next level in the playoffs by acquiring Ryan Kesler from Vancouver in the summer of 2014 in exchange for Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, and two draft picks. Kesler had a solid campaign and has been a big help in the postseason with four goals, nine points, and a 61.2 faceoff winning percentage in 12 contests. Perhaps the biggest move was the one Murray didn’t make though. He let goaltender Jonas Hiller walk as a free agent and rather than replace him, Murray put his trust in the idea that one of his two young netminders, Frederik Andersen or John Gibson, would be able to fill the void. So far that’s worked out for Anaheim.

Yzerman’s Tampa Bay Lightning had a 50-24-8 record in the regular season and advanced to the 2015 Eastern Conference Final. Yzerman inherited Steven Stamkos, but he’s done a great job of building a strong team around the superstar. The Lightning have a number of young offensive weapons, including Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat, all of which were acquired during Yzerman’s watch. Kucherov was a late second round selection in 2011 while Palat slipped all the way to the seventh round of the same draft. Johnson meanwhile was never drafted and Yzerman instead lured him over with an entry-level contract in 2011.

The Lightning general manager also acquired a vital piece of the puzzle in 2013 when he sent Cory Conacher and a fourth round pick to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Ben Bishop.

Sather has been running the Rangers’ front office since in 2000 and oversaw their Presidents’ Trophy-winning 2014-15 campaign. He’s made a habit of trading for or signing high-profile players with varying degrees of success. The most recent example is defenseman Keith Yandle, who he pried away from Arizona in March. Some of the other big names he’s acquired in recent years include Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, and Dan Boyle.

Coach Cooper explains why Stamkos is a winger now

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The best thing about playing the wing is that you don’t have the same defensive responsibilities that centers do.

That’s the lazy man’s take, at least. (And coming from a blogger, an appropriate one.)

But it’s also why Steven Stamkos has been shifted to the wing, according to Lightning coach Jon Cooper.

“The one thing I thought, he’s spending too much time in the [defensive] zone, and he’s spending way too much energy down there,” Cooper said this morning ahead of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final versus the Rangers.

“So to free him up a little bit, and let him get out of the zone a little faster and not have to play the whole 200 feet, I thought was something that was going to save his legs and give him a little more time.”

Lately, Stamkos has been centered by Valtteri Filppula, with Alex Killorn on the opposite wing.

“To have a player like Fil who can control the puck the way he does, ” said Cooper, “he sees the ice, he can get those pucks to Stammer. He’s somebody that transports the puck really well.”

Frankly, Stamkos has always struck me more as a winger than a center. The three forwards that had the most shots during the regular season (Alex Ovechkin, Rick Nash, Max Pacioeretty) are all wingers. It’s a position that lends itself to players with good shots, and Stamkos certainly has one of those. He just needs more opportunities to use it.

Related: Stamkos doesn’t mind winging it

Vigneault defends Nash, but realizes they need more

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The New York Rangers have been able to get this far while averaging just two goals per game, but just because they’ve been able to do that doesn’t mean its ideal or will continue to work going forward. The Tampa Bay Lightning handed the Rangers their first blowout loss of the 2015 playoffs Monday night and it remains to be seen if the Rangers can respond.

They’ve had great goaltending and Monday’s loss aside, the Rangers’ defense has been an asset. But some of their forwards haven’t been getting the job done with the puck and no one exemplifies that more than Rick Nash. After scoring 42 markers in the regular season, he has just two goals and seven points in 14 playoff contests. Combine that with his offensive struggles in 2013 and questions are being raised about his ability to produce when the stakes are raised.

NBC’s Keith Jones put it bluntly on Monday:

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault continues to defend his star player, but that doesn’t mean he thinks the Rangers can get by with the status quo from Nash in terms of production.

“I mean, again, he’s working extremely hard,” Vigneault said, per the Bergen Record. “He’s getting physically involved. He’s getting some looks. Would I like him to finish on some of those looks? Yes. Do we need him to finish on those looks? Probably, yes. He knows that.”

Vigneault went on to emphasize that it’s not just Nash that they need more out of and that was certainly the case on Monday. Still, a breakout night from Nash would likely go a long way towards tipping the Eastern Conference Final in the Rangers’ favor.

Game 3 will air on NBCSN and is scheduled to start at 8:00 p.m. ET tonight.