NEW YORK – The ticket booth is closed.
Just one day after Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said his team was a turnstile at a movie theater watching the Rangers go by, they were much more engaged during a 6-2 win in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, sending this series back to the Sunshine State deadlocked at one game apiece.
“I think in Game 1, we participated in the hockey game, and in Game 2 we came to win a hockey game,” said Cooper. “That was the difference.”
“Obviously we needed to make an adjustment,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who scored a third-period goal to help put the game away. “In the first game, we weren’t there mentally and physically we didn’t compete. This group competes. All year we had the skill and the speed to do anything if we were willing to compete.”
“I think the first game really wasn’t the way we have been playing all year,” said goaltender Ben Bishop, who made 35 saves. “I think tonight was a better example.”
The Lightning opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal, the first allowed by the Rangers this postseason. Dan Boyle’s pass to Martin St. Louis got caught in St. Louis’s skates, allowing Tyler Johnson to break in on a breakaway. Henrik Lundqvist made the original save, but St. Louis crashed into Lundqvist and the puck trickled over the line.
That was just the start of the Tyler Johnson show. The diminutive undrafted winger, just 5-foot-8, scored a hat trick in less than 23 minutes, the first in Lightning postseason history.
“I think every morning I’m just happy to be here and I’m living my dream,” Johnson said. “So that’s what’s driving me is to try to be the best I can and play for my family. They sacrificed so much for me to be here, and I’m living my dream, so I want to keep living it as long as possible.”
“Oh, Tyler Johnson. The bigger the game, the better he plays,” Cooper said. “That’s Tyler Johnson. It’s unreal to watch. He put the team on his back, and we all followed.”
Johnson has a league-high 11 goals this postseason. No one else has more than seven.
“Tyler Johnson is not the only one this happens to, but to do it in the greatest league in the world on the biggest stage, in the world’s most famous arena, it’s pretty impressive,” Cooper said. “It doesn’t get any bigger than that. I don’t know. I can’t say enough. He’s one of 20 guys that takes the ice for us every night, but he is team first, will first. It’s incredible to watch. Never lets you down.”
“Without a doubt he took his game to another level tonight,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “We need our top guys to do the same thing.”
The Lightning were credited with just 18 hits in Game 1, but finished Game 2 with 26. They wanted to be more physical, and they were. But the story wasn’t physicality, it was an opportunistic offense. The highest-scoring offense in the league during the regular season was held to just one goal in Game 1, before saddling the Rangers with the most goals they’ve allowed in one game this postseason.
“Our will and our determination were at a much higher level than it was in Game 1,” Cooper said. “We were much more physical. Where in Game 1 we played not to get touched, tonight we were getting dirty.”
“I think what we were mainly focused on was the fact that we worked so hard to get into this position and we didn’t want to just squander it away,” Johnson said. “We didn’t feel like we played very well in Game 1. We definitely needed more. I thought the team responded very well tonight and I thought we played a great game.”
Lundqvist allowed six goals, his most in a playoff game since his first-ever postseason contest in 2006.
The Rangers fell to 2-11 in Game 2s since the start of the 2011 postseason, including 1-7 in their last eight Game 2s after winning Game 1.
The Rangers have split their first two games of a playoff series in eight of their last 12 series. They’re 6-1 when doing so over that span.