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Eastern Conference Finals Are All Tied Up

Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals was set for tonight at Amalie Arena. Would the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning win to even the best of seven series at two games apiece? Or would the upstart New York Rangers win to take a commanding 3-1 series lead? The stage was set. The Lightning were either going to head to New York for Game 5 on the brink of elimination or the Eastern Conference Finals are all tied up. 

After the exciting last minute victory by the Lightning in Game 3, would they bring their A game to Game 4 to get the Conference Finals all tied up? If one thing was certain, the Rangers weren’t going to go away quietly. Both goalies are now playing well after the Game 1 hiccup by Andrei Vasilevskiy. The power play units for both teams were also playing well. Four of the five goals scored in Game 3 were with the extra man.

Get Out of The Gate Fast

It appeared that both teams started Game 4 tentatively. Tampa was creating more chances in New York’s zone and spending more time there than the visitors wanted. Then the Big Rig drove the paint toward New York goalie Igor Shesterkin and flipped a rebound of a Zach Bogosian shot into the net. Three minutes into Game 4, the Lightning took a 1-0 lead.  After that initial goal, the ice seemed to tilt in the favor of the home team. A few minutes after the Maroon goal, the Lightning had the game’s first power play.

Here was the Lightning’s chance to widen their lead early in the game and push the Rangers back on their heels. Despite a lot of zone time, the Tampa power play mustered only two shots but didn’t score.  You have to give the Rangers penalty kill credit. The Lightning had the puck in their zone but they held firm denying many shot opportunities. As the period progressed, the momentum was beginning to shift from the Lightning to the Rangers. 

Now, it was the Rangers with extended time in the Lightning’s zone. Well, Tampa’s defense was up to the challenge. So was Vasilevskiy. In the second half of the initial period, despite dominating the puck possession, the Rangers couldn’t get one in the net. Vasilevskiy stood tall and the first period came to an end with the Lightning up 1-0.

Who Is Going to Take Control?

The middle frame looked a little like the first period. Except it was New York with extended time in Tampa’s zone. The Lightning defense was ready and seemed to challenge every shot taken by the Rangers. Vasilevskiy continued his stellar play into the new period. Back and forth both teams went up and down the ice. Shortly after the halfway point of the period, Frank Vatrano and Brandon Hagel dropped the mitts. The fight was basically a draw but as he skated to the penalty box, Hagel was gesturing to the Amalie faithful to make some noise. 

The fans responded then the players took control. Before long, Nikita Kucherov found himself alone on a breakaway. Remember, he had a breakaway in Game 3 but Shesterkin beat him. Not tonight. Kucherov beat the Ranger goalie, putting the Lightning up 2-0. The self-proclaimed cockroaches from New York wouldn’t go away. They wouldn’t die and definitely weren’t going to go away quietly. The problem for the visiting team was the Lightning came to play team defense. Blocking some shots, filling in the shooting lanes and frustrating the Rangers. Even if the Rangers were to sidestep all that by the Lightning defenders, there was Vasilevskiy standing on his head. 

As the second period came to an end, the Lightning enjoyed a 2-0 lead. Heading into the final period, would the Rangers bring their best shot? If so, would the Lightning defense and Vasilevskiy keep the visitors off the scoreboard?

Looking Like the Conference Finals Are All Tied Up

In the first couple minutes, Steven Stamkos was tripped giving the Lightning their second power play opportunity. This could be the chance to take the wind out of the New York sails. During this power play, the Rangers had the best scoring chance. After the penalty was over, the Lightning forecheck went into high gear. The Rangers had trouble with the Lightning’s flying forecheckers and were pinned in their zone. Ondrej Palat snapped a shot that Shesterkin kicked out but didn’t control. Stamkos did control the rebound and whipped it by Shesterkin giving Tampa a 3-0 lead. 

With a little over 13 minutes remaining in the period, Mikhail Sergachev and New York tough guy, Ryan Reeves got into an altercation that led to Rangers power play. If the Rangers were going to have a chance in this game, this opportunity would have to produce a goal. Less than a minute into the power play, Chris Kreider was whistled for a penalty negating the power play. Now the period is at the halfway point and some desperation is showing from the boys from the Big Apple. 

With just under 4 minutes left in the game, Alex Killorn was called for a holding penalty to give the Rangers another power play. To improve their chances, New York pulled Shesterkin and on the 6 on 4 power play Artemi Panarin scored to put the Rangers on the board. Closing the gap to 3-1 gave the Rangers some life. Fortunately for the Lightning there was little time for the Rangers to effectively do anything. 

An empty net goal with less than 10 seconds left in regulation by Game 3 hero Palat iced the game to make the final score 4-1.

Three Stars

First Star – Andrei Vasilevskiy – 34 saves on the 35 shots he faced. Was the difference in this game.

Second Star – Ondrej Palat – 1 goal, 2 assists and becoming one of the hottest Lightning players in this series.

Third Star – Steven Stamkos – 1 goal and he won 53% of his face offs.

What’s Next

Game 5 Thursday night in New York at Madison Square Garden at 8pm.

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