Lightning’s thrilling comeback shows no quit: ‘It’s a brand-new series now'

Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos each scored to tie the game, and Kucherov set up Ondrej Palat to score the game-winner with just 42 seconds remaining, as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New York Rangers 3-2 in Game 3.

Following Game 2’s loss at Madison Square Garden, Steven Stamkos noted that the New York Rangers had cracked the recipe for rallying from a two-game deficit in these playoffs.

The onus, the captain said, would fall upon the Tampa Bay Lightning to dig for those same ingredients if they had any chance to resuscitate hopes for a threepeat.

Well, not only did the Lightning rob from the Rangers’ recipe in Sunday’s come-from-behind 3-2 Game 3 thriller, the Bolts outright stole their opponents’ slogan.

“There’s no quit in our group,” Stamkos told reporters. A comment that may or may not have been a wink at the Original Six club’s new rallying call and hashtag: #NoQuitInNY.

“It's a brand-new new series now.”

Sure feels like it.

(And the way proceedings are rapidly unfolding on the left side of the bracket, hockey fans could use a team up for the counterpunch.)

In what was far and away the Eastern Conference Final’s most entertaining and smartly executed 60 minutes to date, a resilient home side admittedly drew inspiration from its first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, whom Tampa Bay trailed 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 before eventually putting to rest in seven games.

Falling behind 2-0 in the series and 2-0 in Game 3, thanks to back-to-back power-play strikes from Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider in Period 2, the Lightning shot to life like that Undertaker gif.

A pair of power-play goals of their own, one-time blasts from superstars Nikita Kucherov and Stamkos, knotted the game and stirred Amalie Arena.

“You don’t want to give a team like this any breathing room. You gotta bury ’em when you can,” Rangers forward Ryan Reaves said.

“We know the talent they got over there, what they’ve done in the playoffs. They haven’t won back-to-back by mistake.”

As urgent as they were relentless, and led by their best players, Tampa drove at New York and its all-world goaltender in waves.

At even strength, the Lightning out-attempted the Rangers 65-37, outshot them 40-21, generated 15 high-danger chances to New York’s five, and held a 69.4 per cent share of expected goals, according to Natural Stat Trick.

At risk of their dynasty crumbling, the Lightning players found their best selves.

“We are down 2-0 in the series, so it's pretty much all on the line in the third. They got a couple of power-play goals,” Stamkos said. “But I think the 5-on-5 game was in our favour tonight. That's what we want.”

In a game that had yet to witness an even-strength goal, finally the Lightning’s 51st shot on Igor Shesterkin did the trick.

With only 41.6 seconds left on the clock, a sickening blind backhand pass from Kucherov teed up Ondrej Palat for as pretty a winning goal as you’ll see in such a pivotal game.

"He’s got that ability to play that blue-collar game with white-collar players,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of Palat. “And that’s a great trait to have.”

A better trait: Finding a way to not just rebound but surge when the world is sharpening its pencils, ready to write you off.

Top Gun and Kate Bush may not be the only ones making an emphatic comeback this month.

Not only did the Rangers have their four-game win streak snuffed out, but they saw a key player, Ryan Strome, leave due to injury, and coach Gerard Gallant took issue with Tampa’s invasion of Shesterkin’s crease.

Corey Perry (slashing) and Riley Nash (goalie interference) were both dealt minor penalties for contacting the likely Vezina winner.

“It fazes me more than him,” Gallant said. “I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s a big part of it. Hopefully, when we talk to the supervisor tomorrow, they’ll take care of some of that. Because it wasn’t right.”

Still, Gallant tipped his cap to the better team Sunday, admitting that had his own no-quit group scored the last goal, they would’ve “stolen it.”

And from what we saw in Game 3, Tampa Bay is not prepared to let anyone steal what belongs to them without a fight.

Fox’s Fast 5

• Love hearing play-by-play man Harnarayan Singh, who honed his skills via Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition, now calling a conference final in English. Tremendous energy and sense of the moment.

• How’s this for unusual? Kucherov had himself a three-point afternoon, he has been Tampa’s most dangerous offensive threat, and yet he is still looking for his first even-strength goal of the postseason (five power-play, one empty-netter).

• From Game 2: Watch as Cooper cuts Nick Paul’s first intermission interview with TVA’s Renaud Lavoie abruptly short because he wants him in the dressing room. (Note: Paul had lost his check, Adam Fox, who set up the Rangers’ go-ahead goal minutes prior to the Q&A.)

• Keep an eye on the health of Strome. The Rangers’ second-line centre suffered a lower-body injury (perhaps a right knee) after this seemingly innocuous shove from Palat.

Strome immediately went to the room for attention. He tried to come back, skating one shift before leaving again. He did not return and needs further evaluation.

• Evander Kane nemesis Ryan Reaves gave a wry smirk when asked about the Oilers forward’s dangerous check on Nazem Kadri in the Western Conference final that earned a one-game suspension.

“It’s obviously from behind. League will deal with it,” Reaves smiled, resisting the bait. “I’m gonna stay away from that one, thank you.”

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