Rangers blame ‘unfortunate plays’ for special teams’ struggles

TAMPA, Fla. – The Rangers’ penalty kill is just two for its last five. But coach Gerard Gallant does not see an issue with the team’s play at four-on-five.

“I gotta disagree a little bit,” he said following an optional practice on Monday, when it was put to him that the penalty kill struggled in Sunday’s 3-2 loss, where the Lightning struck twice on the power play.

“They scored from the play that they always do, the outside, the slap shot by [Nikita] Kucherov, ”Gallant said. “And then the second one, our guy fell, he opened up a lane. I would not say our penalty killing struggled. I would say it was a couple unfortunate plays for us. Agree with that? ”

Agree or not, it’s a new wrinkle to an Eastern Conference Final in which the Rangers came in with a seemingly clear edge on special teams. That played out as expected in the opener, when the Blueshirts scored on the power play and killed off all three of their own penalties.

Adam Fox is upended behind Nicholas Paul.
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Since then, though, the Lightning have outscored the Rangers on the power play despite having four fewer attempts.

In Sunday’s Game 3, with the Rangers holding a two-goal lead at the halfway mark, it was special teams that allowed the Lightning back into the game, as Kucherov and Steven Stamkos scored on the man-advantage to tie it. The Rangers also failed to do anything with what looked like their best chance to take the lead back – a four-minute high-sticking major on Kucherov where a tripping penalty on Jacob Trouba negated half of the power-play time.

“I think especially that first one, we were letting them go back and forth through the middle a few times,” Adam Fox conceded after the game. “It’s never easy for a goalie to play the seam pass like that all the time. I think we let them get set up. I think we gotta try and not let them get zone entry and move the puck around. I think when we have an opportunity to pressure them, we gotta do that.

“I think they just did a good job moving [the puck]. They have a lot of threats. We try and take away that one-timer, too, from Stamkos and he was able to get that one off. ”

During the regular season, the Lightning converted on 23.94 percent of their power-play opportunities, ranking eighth in the league. During the playoffs, they’ve been slightly better at 25 percent, though the Rangers’ penalty kill has taken a noticeable dip from its regular-season success, at just a 77.6 percent success rate.

“As far as the PK, yeah, we had a couple minor details I guess you could clean up for [Game 4], ”K’Andre Miller said. “But as far as that, I think we did a pretty good job overall.”

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