(SportsNetwork.com) - After two consecutive difficult outings, Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers responded with a decisive victory to draw even in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Blueshirts will try to repeat their latest performance when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning in Sunday's Game 5 battle at Madison Square Garden.
New York, the top overall seed in these playoffs and the defending Eastern Conference champions, claimed the opener of this best-of-seven set with a 2-1 home victory before allowing six goals in each of the next two games. Tampa slammed the Rangers 6-2 in Game 2 at the Garden before notching a 6-5 overtime win at Amalie Arena.
Lundqvist surrendered all 12 scores in Games 2 and 3, but one in particular -- the OT game-winner -- stood out as a bad goal. The wild overtime affair ended at 3:33 of OT when New York's star goaltender allowed Nikita Kucherov's fluttering shot from above the right circle to beat him for the win.
However, after falling behind 2-1 in the series, Lundqvist and his offense answered with a resounding victory in Friday's matchup at Tampa, posting a 5-1 decision to even the series at two games apiece. Lundqvist rebounded with an excellent showing, stopping 38-of-39 shots to subdue the high-powered Lightning.
"I think there was a lot of talk about him and about his play, but there wasn't any doubt from within our dressing room," said New York coach Alain Vigneault of Lundqvist.
While Lundqvist was able to get his game back on track, Rick Nash also quieted some of the doubters as he broke out of a slump to lead the New York rout.
Nash registered two goals and one assist, doubling his goal total from the first 15 games of this postseason. He now has four goals and six assists in these playoffs after notching a career-high 42 goals during the regular season. Friday's performance marked career playoff highs for Nash in both goals and points.
Martin St. Louis also recorded his first goal of the playoffs for New York, halting a 16-game postseason goal-scoring drought. The veteran winger's last playoff goal came in Game 4 of last spring's Stanley Cup Finals loss against Los Angeles.
"Well, it's always important to have guys like that score," Vigneault said of Nash and St. Louis. "They feel good about their game. Even though they do so many different things to help the team, I think when they put the puck in the net, they get a little extra confidence."
Keith Yandle added a goal and two assists for the Rangers, while Kevin Klein and Kevin Hayes each had two helpers.
The Rangers have won Game 4 in four of their last five playoff series and they have taken 13 of their last 18 postseason sets when winning the fourth meeting.
New York owns a 4-1 series record the last five times it was tied at 2-2 after Game 4.
The Lightning received their lone goal from Steven Stamkos, who tied the score at 1-1 with 8:30 left in the second period. He has registered a tally in three straight and five of his last six games, giving him six goals this postseason.
Chris Kreider scored less than four minutes after Stamkos to put the Rangers ahead for good. Yandle then made it a 3-1 game with 2:56 remaining in the middle stanza.
After Lundqvist bounced back with a strong outing the heat is now on Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop to do the same. On Friday, the Bolts goaltender gave up five goals for a second straight game, stopping just 19 shots.
The Tampa offense also will try to get its finishing touch back. The Lightning outshot the Rangers by a sizeable margin in Game 4, but only Stamkos managed to get the puck past Lundqvist.
The Lightning squandered some of their best scoring chances early in the game. Kucherov was wide open in front following a faceoff, but he missed the net. Tyler Johnson then hit the post during a Tampa Bay power play.
"We had our looks," said Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper. "Could you ask for anything more in the first five minutes than to have Kucherov and Johnson by themselves in front of the net?"
Tampa's penalty killers will aim for a better showing in Game 5 after yielding two power-play goals to the Rangers in each of the last three games. New York has a superb 6-for-13 (46.2 percent) success rate during that span.
"I think right now we're able to capitalize on it," Yandle said of New York's surging power play. "But even before we were getting chances, but now finding ways to score, which at this point in the season it's not easy to do."
Lightning defenseman Matt Carle missed Game 4 with an undisclosed injury after leaving the previous tilt following a collision with Rangers center Derek Stepan. Mark Barberio replaced Carle in the lineup and played in his first game since the regular-season finale against Boston on April 11. Carle is questionable for Game 5.
The Rangers are 6-3 on home ice this postseason, while Tampa Bay is 4-2 as the guest.
Game 6 is scheduled for Tuesday in Tampa.