The Rangers find themselves deadlocked at two games apiece with the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final. They enter tonight’s pivotal Game 5 with a chance to pull within a game of their second straight Stanley Cup Final appearance. Game time is 8 PM at what should be a raucous MSG.
Given the unpredictable nature of this series, it’s hard to tell what will happen. The Rangers do have momentum after taking Game 4 5-1 in Tampa thanks to big performances from Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis and Keith Yandle. For a second consecutive game, they scored five goals on Ben Bishop, who now faces similar scrutiny that Lundqvist had. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds.
How important is Game 5? In a best two-of-three, the Rangers want to take care of business on home ice and not have to go to a loud Amelie Arena facing elimination. History tells us that it wouldn’t be wise. In a similar situation during the same round, they lost Game 5 to the Devils 5-3 in 2012. The Devils prevailed in six. They don’t want to have the same thing happen. Especially given how explosive the Lightning are.
They have the better goalie and the power play has sprung to life going 6-for-13 over the last three games. They also have recent history on their side. They’ve won each of their last eight home playoff games which have gone to a Game 5, 6 or 7. In those eight games, they’ve allowed a total of seven goals. That’s where Lundqvist comes in. It’ll be more challenging against the Bolts. If he can duplicate his 38-save performance in Game 4, the Rangers should be in good shape.
For them to prevail, they need to play well. As good as Friday was, it wasn’t perfect. Following Nash’s first period tally, the Lightning had the Rangers on their heels with Steven Stamkos scoring his third of the series tying it and firing 19 shots on Lundqvist, who stood up to the challenge. That allowed his teammates to grow confidence with Chris Kreider and Yandle scoring big goals late in the second period. Third period power play goals from St. Louis and Nash finished it off.
Defensively, they can use stronger efforts from Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. The top pair has had their struggles dealing with the Bolts’ Triplets speed of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. Ditto for Marc Staal when matched against Stamkos, Alex Killorn and playmaking center Valtteri Filppula. They must limit their gap space and must pay attention to Victor Hedman. He’s been extremely dangerous jumping in on the rush with four assists.
Discipline will also be a key factor. Finally, the teams showed some disdain at the conclusion of Game 4 with Carl Hagelin getting in the face of Ryan Callahan and Tanner Glass responding immediately to a Cedric Paquette hit on James Sheppard. Kevin Klein put Brenden Morrow in a headlock following his bump of Lundqvist.
The Rangers want to remain patient and stay out of the penalty box against such a dangerous opponent. They also want to keep using their speed to forecheck Tampa’s D and draw penalties. Put them on the defensive. If they can control most of the play from behind Bishop’s net, that should bode well.
Limiting turnovers in the neutral zone and cute plays at the blueline are equally important. It fuels the Bolts’ transition. They must manage the puck and make smart decisions. We’ll see if they are up to the challenge on a hot Memorial Day Weekend.