Frank Vatrano's steal gives Rangers momentum at key point

Frank Vatrano’s steal gives Rangers momentum at key point

The Lightning should have taken the lead.

It was early in the second period Wednesday night and the Rangers were on their heels in a tie game. Jacob Trouba had just fallen to the ice and the Lightning were charging down with numbers—two on zero.

This had been coming. Tampa Bay had the better of the first period and carried that advantage into the second. After all, that is what the Lightning does. For the past two seasons, going on three, it was inevitable.

And then, the Lightning lost the puck. Or, Frank Vatrano took the puck from them, wheeling into his own zone to back-check and knock the puck out of the air before Ondrej Palat could get a shot off.

The play did not appear in the scoresheet at the end of the Rangers’ 6-2 victory in Game 1 of this conference finals. But in the span of a few minutes, Vatrano changed the tide of a game that seemed to be surging towards Tampa Bay.

Frank Vatrano, who scored a goal, looks to knock in a rebound goal is stopped by Andrei Vasilevskiy during the Rangers’ 6-2 Game 1 win over the Lightning.
NY Post: Charles Wenzelberg

Because just a few shifts later, with the ice still tilting towards the Lightning, after Vatrano and Adam Fox had nearly stepped on each other at the top of the Rangers’ offensive zone, Vatrano let loose a wrist shot to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy.

“I saw one of our defensemen go down there and knew I had to get back,” Vatrano said. “I know the guy was gonna make a play to the net. Fortunate enough to get a stick on it and then I think a couple goals that our line scored, but mine especially, was a great play all around. Started in our D-zone and we talk about that, defending well and get to our offense.”

All of a sudden, it was the Rangers who had taken a 2-1 lead. All of a sudden, that inevitability had been shattered, and a nervous Madison Square Garden was rocking. And in the blink of an eye, 2-1 became 4-2 and the Rangers were dominating the fields.

“That’s what we ask [Vatrano] to do,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “We ask guys to get in shot lanes and back-check hard through the middle of the ice. He made a huge play there and when you make those good plays defensively, usually good things happen on the other end.”

Vatrano had already picked up his ninth point of the playoffs earlier in the game, when he assisted on Chris Kreider’s opening goal, but it was Mika Zibanejad who made the highlight-reel play there, outskating Nikita Kucherov and faking out Vasilevskiy to set up the feed to Kreider. Vatrano, who got the breakout moving by chipping the puck up the ice, did the little thing — one that won’t be widely remembered.

Likewise, this Game 1 victory will not be remembered as the Vatrano Game. Filip Chytil, who scored twice, and Vasilevskiy, whom the Rangers made mortal, will dominate the talk ahead of Game 2.

But in the span of a few minutes during the second period, Vatrano turned Game 1 on its head.

And now, nothing about this series seems inevitable at all.

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