Maybe the Tampa Bay Lightning shouldn't have nine days off between series?
That's the thought that courses through my mind after witnessing the two suffocating showings in Games Three and Four after the team opened up so poorly on the road. The Lightning wasn't the Lightning to start the series, and a hungry and emotionally driven New York Rangers team took advantage of that. However, series aren't won in Games One or Two—they're not won in Games Three and Four either, but the momentum generated from the latter games appears to influence a series differently.
I mentioned in previous MATs that the Lightning needed to get back to their style of hockey—slow down New York's rush chances, force them to cycle, and limit the number of turnovers. The Lightning did all that and more en route to evening the series and altering the entire atmosphere between the two teams. In the first two games of the series, Tampa Bay had 50 giveaways (28 in Game One and 22 in Game Two). In Games Three and Four, they had 15 (six in Game Three and nine in Game Four).
"We were just making poor decisions," said coach Jon Cooper. "If you want to move on, you've got to tighten that stuff up. We have. Are we perfect? No. Are we giving ourselves a chance? We are. Now we've just got to do it in their building."
It's a wonder what happens when the simplest things are fixed, and you're not gifting the opposition so much pressure.
Additionally, Tampa Bay reassert themselves defensively during the two-game homestand, limiting New York's ability to transition, thwarting their efforts to enter the offensive zone cleanly, and forcing them to the perimeter to keep the slot clear. As a result, the Rangers haven't scored a 5v5 goal on Andrei Vasilevskiy since the third period of Game Two. They've still managed to convert on the power-play, which Tampa Bay needs to clean up moving forward, but the 5v5 dominance for the two-time champs has made the high-flying Rangers look meek as the series shifts back to the Big Apple.
The more impressive realization is how this Lightning team continues to make life hell for their opponents even without their best center—Brayden Point. It's unclear when Point will return from his lower-body injury (my opinion is Game Seven at the earliest), but I've liked how Tampa Bay has adjusted their offensive approach without him on the ice. They've found consistent ways to enter New York's zone with possession and have danced circles around the Rangers' defense. Igor Sheshterkin has made some marvelous saves through the series. Still, his overaggressiveness and apparent five-hole weakness (he's somehow allowed the most five-hole goals of anyone this postseason) were exploited in Games Three and Four.
Now, no team is in danger until they lose a home game in the playoffs, and it remains to be seen if the Lightning can win in Madison Square Garden (where the Rangers have been dominant this postseason). However, this Lightning team has finally found its groove and is peaking at the right time in the series. If they're able to replicate their game plan from Games Three and Four, New York is in big trouble. That said, it doesn't matter until it happens, and this series is far from over.