If you were to sit a hockey-curious sports fan in front of a flat screen for any single game of the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs up to this point, Game 3 of Rangers - Lightning might be it.
Granted, the first round feels like something of a satisfying blur right now. I mean, I remember enjoying it to the point of experiencing some renewed faith in the sport, but still.
Seriously though, Game 3 of NYR - TBL had a little bit of everything. There were big hits and some resulting injuries (or at least aches and pains). Both teams traded leads, which has been far-too-rare in this postseason. Even with 11 goals, there were still some fantastic saves, even if Henrik Lundqvist authored more of those than Ben Bishop.
It’s mindblowing that the Lightning already have more goals against the Rangers (13) in three games than the 12 tallies the Washington Capitals managed in the second round against that same team.
Before I dive deeper into that contest, a few things on Wednesday’s other news bits.
First thing, I dig Mike Babcock going to the Maple Leafs. It’s another bitter pill for a Buffalo Sabres franchise that lost out on Connor McDavid (though really, they could be the Coyotes and also lose out on Jack Eichel …) and now they fell short in Babwatch. Toronto's been miserable, but the franchise is finally flexing its financial muscles in the right way from taking on Nathan Horton's contract to free up cap space to splurging on its analytics department and Babcock's hefty deal. In a salary capped era, this is how "the rich" should operate ... but we'll need to wait and see if this actually works.
If you know me at all, you know that I could care less about Nick Foligno becoming the Blue Jackets’ captain (though good for him). Also, I’m not all that perturbed by Martin Brodeur becoming the Blues’ assistant GM; less credible people have jumped straight to GM positions, after all.
Anyway, yesterday was chock-full of news, but let’s get to the meat-and-potatoes.
LIGHTNING 6, RANGERS 5 (OT)
-- "The Triplets" are so dominant, we might really need to look into getting them a better nickname. They've scored more than half of the Lightning's goals in the playoffs, and that great play extended into Game 3. Nikita Kucherov scored the OTGWG and also grabbed an assist. Ondrej Palat was dominant as he had two goals and one assist. Tyler Johnson's 12th goal of the playoffs ties a Lightning playoff record (and Ruslan Fedotenko/Brad Richards played another round-and-a-half), while Johnson's dish on one of Palat's goals was pretty sweet.
I can't recall the Twitter commenter who marveled at the trio being relatively quiet in the first period, but that melted away awfully quickly.
-- The Bolts get scarier if Steve Stamkos and Alex Killorn can replicate their play from Games 2 and 3. Stamkos set the tone with a huge hit on Kevin Hayes and also absolutely earned his first-period goal, which was a biggie as it cut what was a two-goal Rangers lead in half at 2-1.
Killorn was actually the freight train of the two, however, as he generated nine SOG and generally played like he was on a mission to prove that Tampa Bay's more than just "The Triplets."
-- Heading into the playoffs, I thought the Lightning might be the one team with the horsepower to at least push whoever makes it out of the West (assuming a West power made it rather than some upstart like Calgary). I haven't seen that Tampa Bay team as much as I thought I would, yet now we're seeing the squad that featured just a bit of everything. Heck, they're even making like the regular season by dragging Ben Bishop through some low moments.
That said, that defense obviously needs to improve.
-- Speaking of their defense, Matt Carle left the game and did not return after colliding with Derek Stepan during the first of Jesper Fast's two goals (Fast was fantastic in Game 3, by the way). The Lightning dressed seven defensemen for Game 3, so Carle's loss didn't sting as much as it would have under normal circumstances.
-- Henrik Lundqvist looked absolutely devastated after the game, which is understandable considering the fact that he's allowed six goals in two straight games (both, not surprisingly, losses). I feel like these two teams are almost bound to slow down at some point, which would be a great relief for the two goalies.
Lundqvist did look shaky on some goals - he probably wants that Kucherov OT winner back, even beyond the overtime goal factor - yet he also made some huge stops. It argues quite reasonably that these struggles have a lot to do with the way the Rangers are playing.
-- I must admit that I was a touch annoyed by people over-analyzing Rick Nash on his failed semi-breakaway attempt against Bishop (which ended up being a relatively routine save). It’s easy to bury someone for “not lowering his shoulder and crashing the net” from the comfort of a bar stool or couch, after all. What if Nash took that extra time to make a better move and didn’t get a shot off at all? I doubt people would say “Well, at least he dipped his shoulder and went for it.”
Nash is making plays, they’re just not resulting in goals.
Still, if you’re going to bury a star for his struggles, Nash is a fairer target than guys who put up great numbers in losing efforts like, say, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. The sample size of Nash playoff games is now at 56 - already 52 with the Rangers these past three postseasons - and his shots just aren’t going in. His 2015 playoff shooting percentage of 3.8 is almost identical to his career playoff average of 3.7 percent.
Even Nash’s harshest critics have to admit that this is pretty odd and baffling.
-- If these games maintain their locomotive pace, maybe Keith Yandle should start getting big minutes? He generated two assists and generally looked a lot closer to the guy the Rangers expected to get in Game 3.
-- Ryan McDonagh's really heating up with four points in his last four games, including a very nice power-play goal that briefly tied the game in the third period. He's shooting a bit more, as 12 of his 30 playoff SOG have come in the last four games (versus 18 in his first 11).
-- Dan Boyle seems overmatched at times, yet he also has four points in his last two games. Hockey is weird.