So maybe trailing the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Final series 3-2 against the Lightning isn’t exactly the position that the Rangers want to be in, but staring down elimination is certainly not something the Rangers are unfamiliar with.
The Rangers, in fact, appear to be quite comfortable and confident playing in this position, as they were in a very similar position not too long ago.
If the Rangers lose Tuesday and their season comes to a close following game six, you can be sure it won’t be because of a poorly played game. Elimination games are when this team shows its true colors. Elimination games are when Henrik Lundqvist earns his paycheck.
Whether or not the Rangers can steal a win in Tampa Bay and force a game seven is yet to be seen, but if there’s any team that knows how to play in these situations, it’s the New York Rangers.
The King of Season Extending Games
Let’s not beat around the bush here, Henrik Lundqvist is essentially what this game will come down to. The Swedish netminder has been the face of the franchise for the better part of the past decade, and he’s proven that pressure-filled elimination games are when he turns in his most spectacular performances. Lundqvist knows it, his teammates know it, and Alain Vigneault knows it, and it gives the team confidence in those situations knowing who they have backstopping them in net.
Dating back to 2013 playoffs, Henrik Lundqvist’s stats in elimination games: 11-2 with 1.38 GAA and .963 SV%. #NYR
— Ville Lampinen (@VilleLampinen) May 26, 2015
In these playoffs alone, Lundqvist has gone 3-0 in elimination games – all against Washington in round two – allowing just five goals over that span. But his brilliance in games when his team has needed him most goes back further than just last round, or even the last couple of seasons.
Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News said it best in his article on Monday regarding Lundqvist and his play in elimination games:
“One player is definitely going to bring it: Lundqvist is 14-3 with a 1.39 goals against average (GAA) in his last 17 elimination games, 8-1 with a 1.31 GAA in his last nine, and 6-0 in his last six appearances in a Game 6 or 7 with a 1.13 goals against.” – Pat Leonard, NYDN
If nothing else, the Rangers can expect a solid showing from Lundqvist. Beyond that is anybody’s guess.
Build off of Experience
Three times against Washington, the Rangers needed to muster up a gutsy effort to keep the season alive. In game five trailing the series 3-1, they were pinned down trailing the contest until the final 101 seconds. With the season hanging in the balance, somehow they found a way to come back and win to extend the season in overtime.
In game six back on the road, the Blueshirts hung on by tooth and nail to steal a 4-3 win at the Verizon Center to force a game seven back in New York, and in the ensuing do or die contest, the Rangers erased Washington’s early 1-0 lead, forced overtime, and won it just over 10 minutes into the extra frame thanks to Derek Stepan’s marker. Never in any of those three games did the Rangers panic, never did they seem shaken, and never did they deviate from their game plan.
If they’re to force yet another game seven against the Lightning, they’re going to need to stick to that same plan, and build off of those prior experiences, both this year and years prior, in order to continue to find success in the toughest of situations.
“I’ve got a lot of faith and trust in my players. They know how to prepare, they know how to get ready for our games.” – Alain Vigneault following Game Five
When asked after game five whether or not last round’s series against the Capitals would help the Rangers in preparation for Tuesday’s game six, Vigneault told reporters, “I think our experience in these situations might come in and help, but at the end of the day we have to go out there and execute, and we’re going to have to play our best game of the year.”
Game six between the Rangers and the Lightning is set for 8:00 p.m. Tuesday at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.