The New York Rangers are usually at their best when facing elimination. Last round they became the first team in NHL history to overcome a 3-1 series deficit in consecutive playoffs. Tonight they face their toughest test yet. The Rangers are down 3-2 to the young, energetic, and hungry for a chance at the Cup Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning, although one of the league’s youngest teams, have grown together this playoff run. The Lightning are no strangers to adversity as well, having faced a 3-2 series deficit to the Detroit Red Wings in Round 1 and won the series in 7. The Rangers won Game 6 on the road in their previous series against the Washington Capitals.
It was Chris Kreider who set the tone and paced the team with two goals in the first period. The Rangers held on and won that game 4-3 before getting the series back to Madison Square Garden for Game 7, where the team is so comfortable and unbeatable in Game 7’s on home ice. Can they do it again tonight?
This Series Comes Back to Broadway If
The Rangers will return to home ice for yet another Game 7 if they can play better team defense tonight and get scoring from the players that are supposed to score. This is the time for Rick Nash to step up and lead the team. In his 3rd playoff with the Rangers, Nash is yet again struggling to score consistently.
Former Tampa Bay Lightning Martin St. Louis needs to realize this could be his last chance at a Stanley Cup Championship. St. Louis needs to step up tonight and what more motivation does he need than to force a game 7 against his former team in the Eastern Conference Final.
The Rangers are 14-3 in games when they face elimination since the 2012 ECQF and 8-1 in such games in six playoff rounds under Vigneault.
— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) May 26, 2015
The Rangers most consistent line in these playoffs has been Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, and rookie Jesper Fast. They also need to show up big time tonight, and especially if the Lightning find themselves early offensively.However, the defense has to be the most important ingredient for the team.Henrik Lundqvist can only do so much in goal. Sometimes a goalie, even a world-class goalie, is only as good as the defense in front of him. That falls on captain Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Kevin Klein, Keith Yandle, and Dan Boyle to play like the top overall defense in the National Hockey League. The Rangers defense in the playoffs is second in the NHL in points from the blueline with 36. Only the Anaheim Ducks defense (42) has more. Although the Rangers must score, tonight starts and ends with if the Rangers defense can stop Steven Stamkos and The Triplets Line.
The Lightning Will Clinch The Eastern Conference Tonight If
The Lightning need to keep the same intensity they brought to Madison Square Garden in Game 5. The Lightning appeared to be the team that was more desperate and willing to sacrifice the body in game 5 when they blocked a ton of shots.
TBL's 24 blocks in Gm5 were 10 more than their per game avg thru 4 ECF games. NYR's 58 total SAT were 2 more than their per game avg in ECF.
— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) May 25, 2015
The team seemed to have more urgency defensively to limit scoring opportunities as well. The team must play fast, play with a purpose from the drop of the puck, and try to put the Rangers on their heels early. If the Lightning can turn this game into a special teams battle, than they will be going to the Stanley Cup Final.
The speed of the team and quick puck movement has made it tough at times in this series for the Rangers to stay out of the penalty box consistently. The Tampa top two lines have been red hot as of late with Valtteri Filppula centering Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn followed by The Triplets.
The leadership of Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle will be counted upon tonight big time if the two are going to end the season for their former team. Also Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman have to outplay McDonagh and Girardi on the other end. Victor Hedman has been the best defenseman in this series and he will be a big factor on the defensive and offensive sides of the puck tonight.
Hedman on the key to a win tonight: "We have to protect our own end first of all, and we did a good job of that last game.” #TBLightning
— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) May 26, 2015
Ben Bishop will look to get all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in only his second full season as a starter, and first Stanley Cup Playoff.
I am a 2015 graduate of Montclair State University in New Jersey. I have coached ice hockey at the high school level for two seasons here in NJ. I will be covering the Toronto Maple Leafs moving forward for The Hockey Writers.