TAMPA, Fla. — Gerard Gallant generally comes off in his press conferences as a pretty jovial guy, usually with a smile on his face.
But the smile on the face of the Rangers’ coach was wiped away Tuesday night in the aftermath of his team’s dreadful 4-1 loss to the Lightning in Game 4 of the conference final at Amalie Arena.
Gallant was asked what he might say to Mika Zibanejad to get better production in this series after the Rangers’ winger with the sniper shot was essentially held in check for the second consecutive game by Tampa’s line centered by Anthony Cirelli.
“I tell him that all the time: ‘Be more effective,’ ’’ Gallant said sarcastically, clearly annoyed by the line of questioning. “You don’t think I talk to our players? What are you going to do? Cirelli’s going to work hard, they’re going to try and shut [the Zibanejad line] down the best they can.
“Everybody’s got a checking line. That’s the way it goes. You’ve got to battle through stuff. Mika’s a professional, and he’s a real good one at that.’’
Zibanejad was much more effective in Games 1 and 2 at the Garden, assisting on the first goal and scoring the last one in a 6-2 win in Game 1 and scoring the game-winner in Game 2.
Though he scored a goal in Game 3 to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead, Zibanejad has been relatively quiet the past two games.
“It’s a good line,’’ Zibanejad said of Cirelli and Co. “They’re obviously out there with their role and a job to do. I thought we created a little bit more offense today, but we’ve got to worry about ourselves and not too much about who we’re playing. We’ll get some rest and get ready for Game 5.’’
In Game 5 at the Garden, with the home team getting to make the final line change, Gallant will have the option to try keeping Zibanejad away from that Cirelli line.
“We had more control of [line changes] here,’’ Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “Who knows what’s going to happen in New York, but for us to get back in this series we had to start keeping them off the board and [Cirelli’s] line — especially him — has done a heck of a job.
“He’s a worker and he’s hard to play against. Everybody wants to score, but if you can make some of these skill players (Zibanejad) have to play defense … ’’
The Rangers, of course, want Zibanejad playing a lot more offense than defense. That’s their recipe for success.