TAMPA, Fla. — Gerard Gallant tried mixing up his lines in the search for more offense on Tuesday night.
It did not work.
Without Ryan Strome in the lineup, the Rangers’ coach was forced to search for answers in the team’s 4-1 Game 4 loss to the Lightning, with the offense struggling throughout. After beginning the game with Andrew Copp centering Artemi Panarin and Barclay Goodrow on the second line and Kevin Rooney replacing Goodrow at fourth-line center, Gallant made a change after a listless first period.
Starting in the second, Panarin was moved up to the first line with Mika Zibanejad and Frank Vatrano, with Chris Kreider taking his spot on the second line.
It’s not the first time Gallant has tried Panarin on the first line when the offense has been slow. But on Tuesday, it did little to help the Rangers’ cause.
“When things aren’t going the way I like them to go, you hope to get a little spark sometimes,” Gallant said. “Didn’t work great tonight, but that’s what a coach does. Sometimes it works real good. Sometimes it’s fair. And sometimes it doesn’t work at all. I tried something.”
Regardless of configuration, the Rangers struggled to mount a serious attempt on Andrei Vasilevskiy’s net all night. They had little energy and struggled to break out against Tampa’s forecheck.
And after coming south with a 2-0 lead and all the momentum in the series, the Rangers return home with a best-of-three series on their hands against the defending champs.
When they held a 2-0 lead 30 minutes into Game 3, it’s not where the Rangers expected to be.
But since then, Panarin’s consolation goal to make it 3-1 with 3:33 to go in Game 4 is the only time the Rangers have scored, and they have suffered injuries to three of their centers.
Strome sat out Game 4 after taking line rushes and Filip Chytil — whose play has been a revelation these playoffs — went to the locker room late in the second period, not to return. Goodrow played, but through injury, as he took a shot off his already-hurt leg late in Game 3.
Chytil’s injury caused Gallant to jumble the lines further, unable to play the Kid Line and meaning that the Rangers ended the game without any of their normal four forward lines together.
“That happens over the course of the season,” Kreider said. “Injuries, we need to kind of manufacture a little more offensive energy. So guys are used to playing with each other.”
Still, it went about as well as the changes the team tried earlier in the night, yielding nothing helpful to the Rangers’ cause.