NEW YORK—Filip Chytil has found his scoring touch and it’s helping the New York Rangers get on quite a roll.
Chytil scored twice in the second period and the Rangers routed the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning 6–2 on Wednesday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
After scoring eight goals in 67 games during the regular season, the 22-year-old center has seven in 15 playoff games—including five goals in the last three.
“I was working hard for the whole season,” Chytil said. “There were tough moments, so many chances but I couldn’t put it in the net. … When you’re not putting pucks to the net you’re not helping the team that much and maybe start to be a little frustrated. But now it’s finally going in, I am so happy I can help the team like this in winning the games.”
Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin and Frank Vatrano each had a goal and an assist, Chris Kreider also scored and Alexis Lafrenière and Adam Fox each had two assists to help New York win its franchise-record seventh straight home playoff game. Igor Shesterkin stopped 37 shots to improve to 8–3 in the last 11 games.
The Rangers have totaled 17 goals while winning their last three games after scoring nine over the previous five.
“There was a lot of sharpness,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “Obviously, (the Lightning) were a little bit rusty tonight, they weren’t the same after nine days off. … Our game’s good, we’re playing well, we’re doing the right things now. We just got to continue to do that.”
Steven Stamkos had a goal and an assist, and Ondrej Palat also scored for Tampa Bay, which had won six straight and was playing for the first time since completing its second-round sweep of Florida on May 23. Andrei Vasilevskiy, who gave up just three goals in four games against the Panthers, had 28 saves.
“You’ve got to give them credit. They are a really good hockey team,” Stamkos said. “We certainly didn’t have our best. I think we know what we have to do better. Been in this position before. I am confident we will have a better effort next game. It’s Game 1 of a long series.”
Game 2 is Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
The score was tied 1–1 after 20 minutes before the Rangers took control in the second period.
Vatrano gave the Rangers a 2–1 lead at 7:50 of the second as he fired a shot from the left circle past Vasilevskiy high on the blocker side for his fourth of the postseason.
Palat tied it at 8:32, backhanding the rebound of a shot by Stamkos past Shesterkin for his fifth of the playoffs.
The Rangers regained the lead 1:19 later. Kaapo Kakko brought the puck from behind the Lightning net to the goalie’s right and sent a pass to Chytil in slot that he fired past Vasilevskiy. It marked the third straight game Chytil scored.
Chytil made it 4–2 with 4:17 left as he got a cross-ice pass from K’Andre Miller and fired a one-timer past Vasilevskiy for his seventh of the postseason—and fifth in three games.
Panarin got a cross-ice pass from Andrew Copp in the left circle on a 2-on-1 and fired it past Vasilevskiy to give the Rangers a three-goal lead 30 seconds into the third. It was his fifth of the playoffs.
Less than two minutes later, Shesterkin made two big saves during a Lightning power play, and was down on the ice for several minutes after getting hit in the head by Stamkos after the second save.
Zibanejad made it 6-2 at 6:06 after extended time in the offensive zone on a power play, firing a one-timer from the left circle off a pass from Panarin for his eighth of the playoffs. It gave the Rangers a goal with the man advantage for the sixth straight game, tying a franchise playoff record, previously accomplished in 1986 and 1990.
“You just try to be ready for any pass,” Zibanejad said. “It worked out today, so it’s good. Biggest thing was it went in.”
With much of the focus coming into this series centered on the goalies, the Madison Square Garden crowd began chants of “I-gor’s bet-ter! I-gor’s bet-ter!” midway through the third period.
“They played a good game,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “They are rolling. We expected that … You never want to lose two in a row. To bounce back is going to be huge.”
Tempers flared with less than two minutes remaining as several skirmishes broke out in one corner. Ten players received penalties—including two on the Rangers’ Barclay Goodrow—to put Tampa Bay on a power play to finish the game.
Kreider got the Rangers on the scoreboard first 1:11 into the game on the game’s first shot on goal, scoring off a cross-ice pass from Zibanejad on a 2-on-1 from the inside edge of the left circle for his ninth goal of the postseason.
Stamkos tied it at 7:19 as he fired a slap shot from the high slot just under the crossbar for his fifth of the playoffs.
Zibanejad extended his points streak to six games with five goals and five assists in the stretch. … The Rangers have scored six goals in consecutive playoff games for the first time since their Cup-winning run in 1994.
Kreider has 51 postseason points, tying Walt Tkaczuk for the fifth place in New York franchise history. His 33rd postseason goal moved one behind Rod Gilbert for the most in franchise history.
By Vin A. Cherwoo