TAMPA — New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist reverted to his reliable ways after two poor performances, and helped the Rangers beat Tampa Bay 5-1 on Friday and square the NHL Eastern Conference finals at 2-2.
Lundqvist stopped 38 shots after allowing 12 goals while losing the previous two games. Rick Nash had two goals and an assist, and Martin St. Louis — the former Tampa Bay captain — contributed a third-period goal.
“The last 48 hours or so, it’s been pretty tough trying not to overanalyze or complicate things soul searching,” Lundqvist said. “It feels so good when you’re feeling like you’re doing it together and not just one or two guys.”
Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos scored for the third straight game, briefly making it 1-1 before New York’s Chris Kreider and Keith Yandle struck within a 2-minute span for a 3-1 Rangers lead.
With the Lightning’s Nikita Nesterov in the penalty box for high-sticking St. Louis, the star of Tampa Bay’s 2004 Stanley Cup championship team, delivered his first goal this postseason to make it 4-1 with just under 15 minutes remaining.
Nash, who had one goal over his previous 13 games, added another power-play goal at 11:33 of the third for the Rangers, who host Game 5 on Sunday.
“People are going to wake up in the morning and look at the box score and say: ‘Oh wow, Tampa got waxed’,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But if you’re in the building, you probably don’t see it that way.”
The Lightning outshot the Rangers 39-24 but couldn’t rattle Lundqvist, who blocked a Stamkos shot from point-blank range and moments later stopped Alex Killorn on a breakaway as Tampa Bay tried to get back in the game in the second period.
Lundqvist stopped 18 of 19 shots in the period, and had 13 more saves in the third.
“There was a lot of talk about him and about his play, but there wasn’t any doubt from within our dressing room. Hank has done this so many times before,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “We knew he was going to come out and do what he always does, give us a chance to win. And, that’s what he did again tonight.”
In seven games against the Rangers this season, three of them in the regular season, the Lightning have scored at least five goals on Lundqvist four times. They had six on the road in Game 2, and six more during Wednesday’s overtime victory.
“Things that were going in the other night weren’t going in for us. We’ll have to respond,” Stamkos, the Lightning captain, said.
Nash led the Rangers with 42 goals during the regular season, but only had two in 15 playoff games before Friday. The 1-0 lead held up until the Lightning broke through during a frenzied stretch of the second period in which Tampa Bay outshot New York 11-1 and failed to convert two power-play opportunities before Stamkos tied it with a slap shot from the right circle that skipped up over Lundqvist.
It didn’t take the Rangers long to respond. Kreider scored at 15:16 of the second when Kevin Klein’s shot rebounded off goalie Ben Bishop directly to the New York center in front of the net. Yandle’s goal less than 2 minutes later hit a defenseman’s foot and squirted through to put New York up 3-1.
Tampa Bay goalie Bishop yielded five goals for the second straight game after not allowing more than three in Tampa Bay’s first 14 playoff games.
“From Bish on out, myself included, we have to be better next game,” Stamkos said. “It’s 2-2. It’s a best two out of three now.”