Wednesday's NHL: Rangers in familiar spot after road losses; Landeskog drives Avs to final

Vin A. Cherwoo
Associated Press

The New York Rangers have been in a similar position before in this postseason – looking to reverse the momentum back home after dropping two games on the road.

In the first round against Pittsburgh, they returned home after falling into a 3-1 series hole and won three straight to advance. In the second round, they were down 2-0 and won four of the next five to move on.

Former Wolverine Andrew Copp (18) carries the puck for the Rangers against the Lightning during the first period in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday in Tampa, Fla.

Now they come back to New York tied 2-2 with two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference final, hoping to turn the tide in Game 5 on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. Two of the last three games will be at home, where they’ve won eight straight.

“I think we’re probably in the best spot we’ve been through three series,” former Wolverine Andrew Copp said Wednesday. “We got two games at home. I think we play really good at home. … I think we’re all confident where we’re at right now but there’s got to be an increased level of desperation for sure.”

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The Rangers will be looking to rediscover the offense that seemed to be rolling along the first two games when they outscored the Lightning 9-4. They were outscored 7-3 in the two games in Tampa.

New York led 2-0 midway through Game 3 before Tampa Bay scored three times to eke out a win. The Lightning then held the Rangers off the scoreboard until late in the third period of a 4-1 win in Game 4 on Tuesday night that evened the series.

“They haven’t made any mistakes, we haven’t had a lot of scoring chances,” Rangers coach and former Red Wing Gerard Gallant said. “They didn’t create a whole lot of scoring chances either, but they haven’t made the mistakes and I think that’s from experience from winning teams. They don’t give up much and that’s how you win Stanley Cups.”

The Rangers aren’t discouraged by their losses on the road, where they are 2-7 this postseason. They also know what they need to improve on from the last two games – play more physical and do a better job of getting inside scoring chances against Andrei Vasilevskiy.

They expect a boost from playing at home, where the haven’t lost since falling in three overtimes in Game 1 of the first round against Pittsburgh.

“It’s a best of three in the Eastern Conference finals and it’s something to be excited about as a group,” former Wolverine Jacob Trouba said. “We’re in a pretty good spot here and we’re going to go home and do what we can to win a game.”

The Lightning will be looking to build on the momentum they created at home after showing signs of rust at the start of the series following a nine-day layoff after finishing a second-round sweep of Florida. Tampa Bay had won six straight before dropping the first two games against the Rangers.

The Lightning turned it around in this series by tightening up defensively, clogging New York’s passing lanes and forcing most of the Rangers’ shots to come from outside. The few times they did get close, Vasilevskiy was there to shut the door.

“We’ve been desperate the last couple of games,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “We knew how important they were to get back in this series, and we’ve done it. But we can’t sit on our hands now and be happy with that. We got to keep moving forward. … I’m sure now that desperation is going to kick in for them.”

Playing with an increased level of urgency, Tampa Bay – which has won 10 straight playoff series the last three postseasons – was also more disciplined in staying out of the penalty box. The Rangers, with the league’s best power play in the postseason, only had two chances in Game 4.

“They have an even exceptional power play, and so I spoke to Captain Obvious,” Cooper said. “He says if you keep them off the power play, it’s probably going to help your game, and he was really right.”

Gallant knows simply returning home won’t be enough. The Rangers will have to step up their play in Game 5, and they could be without two injured centers – Ryan Strome and Filip Chytil.

Strome missed Game 4 with a lower body injury sustained in the previous game. He skated in pregame warmups but did not play. Chytil left Tuesday night’s game just past the midpoint of the second period after a hit by Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. He missed the rest of the game with an upper-body injury.

“It’s gonna be a battle,” the coach said. “I mean we’re playing against a team that had a lot of experience the last three years and you know they’re not going to give it to us. We got to go out and take it and that’s what we have to do.”

Landeskog drives Avs to final

Gabriel Landeskog kept his patience even as everyone scattered in every direction at practice. Not exactly paying attention, the players were acting like a bunch of 2- and 3-year-olds – because they were.

Coach Gabe kept things calm while he was in charge of his young daughter’s soccer team this spring. Captain Gabe radiates cool as the longtime leader of a Colorado Avalanche team headed to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2001.

He’s grown up with the “C” emblazoned on his jersey, taking over the responsibility at just 19 years, 286 days old. He’s learned all about leadership in the decade he’s been captain, most notably this: Just be himself, because his work ethic carries a lot of clout.

It’s a style that served another longtime captain well in Joe Sakic, who led the Avalanche to a pair of Stanley Cup titles (1996, ‘01) and is now the team’s general manager.

“If you’re going to start faking things and trying to pretend to be something you’re not, people will see right through that,” said the 29-year-old Landeskog, whose team is waiting to face either two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay or the New York Rangers. “Be yourself and things will follow.”

Even strong leaders, though, seek advice on complicated issues. Like this: About to be presented the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl for winning the Western Conference after a sweep of Edmonton, Landeskog turned to Sakic for guidance. Should players put their hands on this piece of hardware or steer clear in keeping with hockey superstition that it’s bad luck when a more important trophy is still possible.

“He was like, ‘Do whatever you want. Touch it. Don’t touch it. It doesn’t matter,’” recounted Landeskog, whose team posed with the trophy – and did touch it, for the record – but didn’t bring it into the locker room. “It’s important to enjoy the journey and important to enjoy the moment.”

His responsibilities include providing grit on a line that features Nathan MacKinnon and Valeri Nichushkin. The left winger hangs out in the tough places, often in front of goaltenders, and he sticks up for his teammates on the ice and off. After Nazem Kadri was knocked out of the Oilers series by Evander Kane, the captain was clear: “Don’t like it.”

It’s all that – plus a witty sense of humor – which has earned him nothing but respect around the room.

“Probably the best captain I’ve played for,” said defenseman Cale Makar, who filmed a comical commercial with the captain. “He’s able to sneak in those right moments when we need his voice but at the same time he’s consistent for us every night playing with that same physical force.”

When Landeskog was appointed captain on Sept. 4, 2012, he was no more than a kid himself. At the time, the forward from Sweden was the youngest in the NHL to assume the role. That distinction was eclipsed in 2016 by Edmonton’s promotion of Connor McDavid (19 years, 266 days).

No doubt, this season has been Landeskog’s finest work. He was leading the team in goals (30) in the regular season when he underwent knee surgery on March 14. He wanted to be closer to full strength for a long postseason run. Back in time for the playoffs, he’s scored eight goals, picked up nine assists and is third on the team in hits.

“Very in tune with what we’re trying to accomplish as a team,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said of the player taken second overall by Colorado in 2011. “He understands all of the personalities and their tendencies in our locker room, attitudinally.

“He’s in a position to help guys out and comfort them when they need it – and give them a kick in the (rear) when they need it, and give them a pat on the back when they need it.”

His lighter side shined through in a series of commercials with his family. In one episode, Landeskog showed up wearing a “C” on his sweater for a family picture with his wife and two kids (“ because I’m the family captain, “ he proudly proclaimed). Another saw him stepping on a toy and fighting back tears as his wife asked what’s wrong.

He also found time to coach that soccer team, too, with the season recently ending.

“It’s awesome coming home to the kids, and they’re buzzing around and want to go to the park,” said Landeskog. “So that’s been great.”

Much like Sakic, Landeskog prefers to lead by example, helping the Avalanche go 12-2 – with two series sweeps – to secure their spot in the final. And much like Sakic, he’s trying to join him as a Colorado captain who’s lifted the Cup.

“At the end of the day, it’s a group effort,” Landeskog said of leadership. “I think we’ve got tons of leaders.”