TAMPA — Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was celebrating his 54th birthday Thursday night with family and friends, and got a surprise visitor for supper.
Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness, 60, a longtime buddy and former co-worker, popped by after arriving in New York for the Eastern Conference final.
"We had a beer, a glass of wine. It worked out well," Vigneault said, smiling.
Their careers have been intertwined the past two decades. Bowness gave Vigneault a chance as an assistant with Ottawa in the early 1990s; Vigneault returned the favor in Vancouver, where Bowness was his right-hand man for seven seasons. That makes this series special for the two, Vigneault said.
"I sent him a text before the series, 'One of us will be in the finals, and that's a good thing,' " Bowness said.
Vigneault wanted Bowness to follow him to New York two summers ago after they were fired from the Canucks but understood his great opportunity with Tampa Bay. Still, both were disappointed.
"I could hear it in his voice," Bowness said. "It was hard for me because our families were close."
The respect is mutual.
"He's one of the most positive individuals I've ever met in my life," Vigneault said. "He loves the game. He doesn't look a day over 45, always smiling, always in a good mood. He's got a real good way of teaching the game. That's why he's going to be in it as long as he could be."
Bowness, who coached in his 2,000th game this season, has "meant the world" to second-year coach Jon Cooper, who said Bowness "taught me about the NHL."
"The one thing that's held him back his whole career is the one thing he wants most: the Stanley Cup," Cooper said. "For me, that would be unreal to be a coach and a staff that gets one for him because of how much passion he has for the game."
POWER UP: The Lightning power play continues to heat up, with three goals in Game 2 on Monday and four in the series, matching the total the Rangers had allowed in the first two rounds combined. D Victor Hedman said the Lightning found confidence with the man advantage against Montreal in the conference semifinals, and it has carried over. The Rangers know they must be more disciplined in tonight's Game 3.
"It's embarrassing," D Ryan McDonagh said. "Our guys better figure out quickly here and realize that stupid, foolish penalties are going to cost us against this team. (The Lightning) has too much skill."
SEVENTH HEAVEN: The Lightning went with seven defensemen Monday, which has been a successful alignment this postseason. Tampa Bay is 4-1 when it does.
One reason why is it brings rookie D Nikita Nesterov in the lineup, and he impressed in 12 minutes, 49 seconds of ice time. "I really liked Nesterov's game," Cooper said. "I thought he brought jump to our game in the back end."
big daddy: Congratulations to C Brian Boyle, 30, and his wife, Lauren. Lauren gave birth Tuesday to the couple's first child, Declan Gabriel Boyle, 9 pounds, 5 ounces. Baby and mom are doing great, the team said.
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Boyle returned to the lineup Monday after missing Saturday's game with an undisclosed injury. "He makes us a little bit taller," Cooper said of the 6-foot-7 center.