The Tampa Bay Lightning took a while to get back up to speed, but they are playing like the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions now.
The Lightning beat the visiting New York Rangers 4-1 in game four of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday, leveling the series at two games apiece.
Game give in the best-of-seven set is scheduled for Thursday night in New York.
“We’re executing, we’re putting pucks on tape, getting our looks and making them pay,” Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said.
Ondrej Palat had a goal and two assists to lead the Tampa Bay offense, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 34 saves to anchor the defense.
Pat Maroon, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos also scored for the Lightning, who lost the first two games of the series in New York before winning the past two at home.
“I just think we play with a little more pace here and we’re playing a simple game,” said Maroon, who is trying to become the only active NHL player with four Stanley Cup titles. “We’re taking the risk out of our game and we’re putting pucks behind them, and we’re getting some shot volume right now.
“We’re getting some traffic in front of the net. We need that, and we’ve got to continue that, we’ve got to continue to break out fast.”
Artemi Panarin scored and Igor Shesterkin made 27 saves for the Rangers, who scratched center Ryan Strome shortly before the game because of a lower-body injury and lost center Filip Chytil to an upper-body injury late in the second period.
“Strome is day-to-day and hopefully ready to go Thursday night,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said after the game. “(Chytil) should be fine, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
Strome was a 21-goal scorer during the regular season, and he has five more in the playoffs. Chytil had three points in the first two games of the current series.
“Stromer is a key guy for us,” New York defenseman Adam Fox said. “He’s an important piece, a centerman that can play both ends of the ice. You lose a skilled guy like that it obviously hurts, but it just means other guys have to step up.”
The Lightning took a 1-0 lead at 2 minutes, 38 seconds of the first period.
Tampa Bay fourth-line right winger Zach Bogosian received a cross-ice pass in the neutral zone from Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and skated through the right circle before cutting between New York teammates Ryan Reaves and Justin Braun.
Bogosian tried a backhand from in close. That shot was saved, but Maroon skated in and swiped the bouncing puck past Shesterkin.
“Good faceoff by Bellemare, great breakout, good poise by Bellemare again, not chipping it in there and cross-icing to Bogo,” Maroon said. “Bogo made a helluva play there to create some space for himself and take it to the net, and I was just driving the paint there and found a way to get the rebound.”
Tampa Bay moved ahead 2-0 at 13:07 of the second period.
The Rangers lost possession trying to come through the neutral zone, and Palat passed to Kucherov for a breakaway goal.
It was the 50th point at home for Kucherov in the past three postseasons, as he joined Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky as the only players to accomplish that feat over the past 35 years.
Stamkos put Tampa Bay ahead 3-0 at 4:56 of the third, scoring from in close off another feed from Palat.
Vasilevskiy was denied his second shutout of this postseason when the Lightning went on a power play and pulled Shesterkin for a two-man advantage, leading to Panarin’s goal with 3:33 left.
Palat scored into an empty net with nine seconds remaining to make it 4-1.
It is the first time the home teams has won the first four respective games of a conference final series since 1991, when the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins did so in the Eastern Conference finals.