Igor Shesterkin New York Rangers Tampa Bay Blitzspiel 2

NEW YORK (AP) — After winning the opener of the series with an offensive performance, the New York Rangers used a strong defensive effort to win Game 2. Now they are two wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in eight years.

Mika Zibanejad scored in the third period, Igor Shesterkin stopped 29 shots and the Rangers beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in Friday night’s Eastern Conference Finals.

“It’s a huge win for us, but we’re just preparing for the next one,” said Rangers coach Gerard Gallant. “The way we played the last two games, we have to play to win the series. We want to fight hard, we want to compete hard and so far we’ve been tough.”

K’Andre Miller and Kapo Kakko scored in the first period, and Adam Fox and Chris Kreider each had two assists for the Rangers. New York won its eighth consecutive home game, extending its franchise playoff record.

“We did a great job limiting them, especially in the first two periods,” Fox said. “We didn’t make too many mistakes. … When we needed those big saves, as always, we got them in the end.”

Nikita Kutscherow had a goal and an assist for Tampa Bay, Nicholas Paul also scored a goal and Andrei Vasilyevsky Made 25 saves. The Lightning goalie has allowed nine goals in two games against the Rangers after limiting Florida to three in four games in the second round.

“We didn’t execute the right way that got us here,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamko said. “They are a competent team and they make you pay. We found some momentum at the end. We have to transfer that.”

The Lightning lost consecutive playoff games for the first time in the last three postseasons. The two-time Stanley Cup champion, winner of 10 straight playoff series, was 17-0 after a loss.

“Your team obviously had a good playoff streak where they didn’t lose a straight game, but we don’t really think that when we get to the games,” Fox said. “We don’t think about what series teams have or how they used to do it. It’s right now and we’re just trying to bring it day in, day out.

The series will move to Tampa on Sunday for Game 3 and Tuesday night for Game 4.

Zibanejad extended the Rangers lead to 3-1 early in the third period when he caught a pass from Fox, ran into the left circle and fired a shot that knocked Vasilevskiy high at 1:21 on the stick side. It was Zibanejad’s ninth of the playoffs and has given him goals in six of his last seven games.

“Obviously that was a big goal,” Gallant said. “We knew they were going to push really hard. … We fought, we found a way. We’re playing against a really good team there. They pushed it, we made some important saves at the end.”

While Vasilevskiy was pulled for an extra skater, Paul scored from the front after a pass Corey Perry to pull the flash to the left within 2:04.

Vasilevskiy was drawn again for an extra skater when Shesterkin had to make several extended saves with about a minute left.

“You take that third period, remember, take it to the next game,” Perry said. “They won at home. We have to go home and take care of business.”

Rangers lead 2-1 after 20 minutes. Tyler moth He almost added to it 3 1/2 minutes into the second half when his backhand shot seeped through Vasilevskiy’s pad and was on the goal line when Perry dived over to keep him away.

The Rangers beat the Lightning 14-10 in the scoreless middle period, with most of Tampa Bay’s attempts coming in the last six minutes.

The Lightning got an early power play, as did the Rangers Ryan Reaves was whistled for cutting 2 1/2 minutes into the game. They quickly took advantage when Kucherov unleashed a shot from the right circle that beat Shesterkin at 2:41 on the glove side. It was Kucherov’s fifth of the postseason. Tampa Bay has been 0-9 on the power play for the past three games.

Miller tied it a little more than minutes later on a Rangers onslaught. He fired a shot from the right spot, which was blocked by the Lightning defender Brandon Hagelbut the puck came back to him and he fired another shot that went off the post at 5:59.

“It was a great all-around game,” Fox said. “Big goal by Key. It definitely fueled us.”

Motte almost put Rangers ahead with 8 1/2 minutes left but his shot deflected off the post.

Kakko gave Rangers a 2-1 lead when he deflected a pass from Fox past Vasilevskiy off the right front door at 2:28 in the opening period.

STATISTICS

Fox leads all NHL defensemen with 17 assists and 22 postseason points. … Zibanejad is on a seven-game points streak with six goals and 11 points. He has 22 points in the postseason. … Rangers have scored 20 goals in their last four games, having scored nine in the previous five.

CLIMBING LIST

Kreider has 53 postseason points, taking sole possession of fifth place in franchise history. … Kreider played in his 96th playoff game, connecting his former teammate — and current Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh — for fourth place in franchise history.

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Follow Vin Cherwoo at http://www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP

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