(SportsNetwork.com) - After a blowout victory in the last meeting, the Tampa Bay Lightning will try to grab their first lead of the Eastern Conference finals when they host the New York Rangers in Wednesday's Game 3.
The Lightning earned a split of the first two games in New York, dropping a 2-1 decision in the opener of the best-of-seven set before knotting the series with Monday's 6-2 rout. Tyler Johnson continued his stellar postseason in the Game 2 victory, notching a hat trick to lead the way for Tampa.
Johnson scored a short-handed goal, a power-play goal and an even-strength goal for the first playoff hat trick in Lightning history. The diminutive forward, who went undrafted, leads the NHL with 11 goals and 16 points this postseason.
Monday's outburst marked Johnson's fourth multi-goal game of these playoffs, but he hadn't scored a goal in his four previous games before putting up three markers in Game 2.
"The bigger the game, the better he plays. That's Tyler Johnson," said Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper. "It's unreal to watch. He put the team on his back, and we all followed."
Alex Killorn added two goals and an assist and Nikita Kucherov collected three assists for the Bolts, who converted 3-of-6 power-play opportunities. Ben Bishop turned aside 35 New York shots.
Tampa Bay is in the conference finals for the first time since 2011 and is attempting to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for just the second time in franchise history. The Lightning made their lone trip to the final round in 2004, when it beat the Calgary Flames in seven games.
New York, meanwhile, is the top seed in the East and the reigning conference champions. The Blueshirts lost to Los Angeles in five games last spring and haven't won the Cup since beating Vancouver in 1994.
Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan scored power-play goals for the Rangers, who saw their NHL-record streak of consecutive one-goal games in the playoffs end at 15. Monday marked the first time New York was involved in postseason game decided by more than one goal since it lost 3-0 to the Kings on June 9.
The Rangers outshot Tampa Bay 37-26 in the game but also spent much of the night killing off penalties.
"It's embarrassing," said Blueshirts captain Ryan McDonagh. "There are a lot of things you want to say right now but talking doesn't do much. Our guys better figure it out quickly here and realize that stupid, selfish penalties are going to cost us against this team."
Henrik Lundqvist allowed all six Tampa Bay goals on 26 shots. It was the most goals surrendered by the star goaltender since he also yielded six against the New York Islanders on Oct. 14.
The Swedish netminder has only allowed more than two goals three times in this postseason and is still sporting a .933 save percentage and 1.86 goals against average this spring.
Despite the rough outing on Monday, recent playoff history suggests New York has a good chance to rebound and win this series. The club has split the first two games of a playoff series eight times in its last 12 series. It posted a 6-1 series record in the previous seven occurrences.
"You just have to wipe it clean," said Lundqvist. "It's one game. It's a tied series."
Johnson scored twice in the opening period to give Tampa a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes and New York would trail the rest of the way.
Tampa Bay forward Brian Boyle, a former Ranger who missed Saturday's series opener because of an undisclosed injury, committed an early holding penalty. He was joined in the penalty box 53 seconds later by defenseman Jason Garrison, who was called for delay of game after firing the puck over the glass.
However, with New York's two-man advantage winding down, a turnover by Martin St. Louis triggered a breakaway for Johnson. St. Louis hustled back in an attempt to break up the play and wound up catching a piece of Lundqvist as he crashed into the right post. Johnson tapped in his own rebound just as the net was dislodged.
Though Johnson's goal was initially waved off, a video review determined that the puck crossed the line prior to the net coming off, giving Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead at 5:38.
Kreider would even the score with a power-play marker at 8:50 of the opening stanza, but Johnson tallied about two and a half minutes later on the man advantage to put Tampa ahead for good.
"Without a doubt he took his game to another level tonight," Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said of Johnson. "We need our top guys to do the same thing."
Johnson is one goal shy of tying the club record for the most goals in one postseason. Brad Richards and Ruslan Fedotenko had 12 in 2004.
Tampa Bay swept all three regular-season matchups with New York and has outscored the Rangers by a combined 22-11 margin in winning four of the five meetings in 2014-15.
Game 4 of this series is scheduled for Friday night at Tampa's Amalie Arena.
The Bolts are 4-3 on home ice in this postseason, while New York is 3-2 as the guest.