TAMPA, Fla. – Zach Bogosian’s rush down the right wing to set up Pat Maroon’s goal less than three minutes in. Anthony Cirelli’s diligence in the defensive zone at the end of the opening period.
Blocked shots by Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev in aiding Andrei Vasilevskiy. Brandon Hagel dropping the gloves.
From top to bottom, everybody had a hand in the Lightning’s 4-1 win over the Rangers on Tuesday night at Amalie Arena.
That is how it has to be this time of year and that is how it was in Game 4. As a result, the Eastern Conference Final has been reduced to a best of three.
Such an effort does not have to be flashy. Rather, it is sticking with the game plan and being responsible.
“Just get back to the basics,” said Pat Maroon. “Get pucks low and set the next line up. You’re not always going to score, but it’s always playing the right way, playing simple, and making sure you set up the line that goes out there next.”
It sounds simple. Of course, it often does not play out that way. One thing is for sure, it is a recipe for success that will likely have to be duplicated in Game 5 on Thursday night (8 p.m. ESPN) on Broadway.
To this point, the home team has won all four games. That will have to change if the Lightning are to advance and play for a third straight Stanley Cup.
“We’ve taken the last two,” said Steven Stamkos. “We’re feeling better about our game and, I’m sure now, the desperation is going to kick in for them. It’s simple. It’s which team can execute in the other team’s rink at this time of the season.”
Midway through the second period of Game 3, when the Rangers had a 2-0 lead and led the series by the same margin, it did not seem as though it would get to this point. Yet, here we are.
“We were making some poor decisions,” said coach Jon Cooper, who referred to puck management problems in the first two games. “If you want to move on, you have to tighten that stuff up. We have. Are we perfect? No. But have we given ourselves a chance? We have. And now we just have to go do it in their building.”
Again, everybody will have to be on board. It is not about one player providing a spark, though you have to admire Brandon Hagel for the one he provided in Game 4. And not just because Ric Flair was in the house.
With the Lightning leading 1-0 at 11:23 of the second period, Hagel dropped the gloves and got into a spirited bout with the Rangers’ Frank Vatrano. As Hagel skated to the box, he exhorted an already fired up crowd to get fired up even more.
Less than two minutes later, at 13:07, Ondrej Palat returned the favor from Game 3 and beautifully fed Nikita Kucherov, who broke in on Igor Shesterkin and beat the Rangers’ goalie for a 2-0 Bolts lead. It was a sequence that seemed to have a far greater effect than what was reflected on the scoreboard.
“It certainly gave the bench some energy and it got the crowd fired up,” said Stamkos, of Hagel’s fight. “It’s never a bad thing when you have that going for you and I think we scored when he was in the box, too, so it was a good swing for our group.”
The Lightning need to take that swing into Game 5.