For a second straight round, the Rangers have their backs to the wall. They are facing playoff extinction after getting shutout by Ben Bishop and the Lightning 2-0 to drop Game 5 at a disappointed MSG. Bishop stopped all 26 shots in a more defensive oriented style game that was every bit as surprising as the series.
To their credit, the Lightning played strong defensively in front of Bishop, who entered having given up 10 goals over the last two games. They limited the Rangers’ scoring chances by getting bodies in front of shots and sticks in passing lanes. The end result was a hard earned two-goal road win allowing them to take a three games to two lead back to Tampa Bay for Game 6 tomorrow night.
Indeed, the Rangers are up against it. They’ve been here before. The only difference is they’re facing elimination on the road. While they can draw on experience including a 3-1 comeback for the second consecutive year last round, it’ll be more challenging. Especially if the Lightning can play the same grinding style in front of Bishop. They blocked 24 shots. Thirty-two of the Rangers’ shot attempts never made it with another eight missing the net. They’ll need to adjust in a must win situation.
”We just have to go down there and play confident, play our best game, and try to get the win,” Marc Staal said echoing coach Alain Vigneault’s words in the postgame. They’ll have to be decidedly better to keep the season going. Offensively, they didn’t generate enough against a goalie whose confidence had to be a question coming in. Their failure especially on the power play going 0-for-4 really hurt.
The Blueshirts’ start wasn’t a issue following an energizing response to long-time anthem singer John Amirante returning for the star spangled banner on Memorial Day Weekend. As Vigneault indicated, they came at the Bolts applying plenty of forecheck pressure for the first 30 to 35 minutes.
The trouble is they weren’t good enough despite Tampa handing them opportunities on the power play. That included a bench minor with the first unit controlling puck possession for nearly 90 seconds but were unable to beat Bishop who had plenty of help including from old friend Brian Boyle, who played his best game of the series blocking five shots while delivering four hits and going 7-and-7 in 22 big shifts (17:06). Exactly the kind of game he was signed for.
”It was a huge effort by our penalty kill,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after noting that the penalty kill and special teams were the key to the game. ”They get that first one, who knows how this game turns.”
It never came in a tightly played first period where the teams combined for just 10 shots with the Rangers holding a slight 6-4 edge. After a good first power play, it was abysmal on the remaining three. In particular, the second one in which Vigneault went with the top unit again at the start. Facing a more aggressive penalty kill, they got nothing accomplished. Neither did the second unit. Only J.T. Miller had jump using his wheels to skate around and keep a sustained cycle after it expired. But getting shots through was problematic.
The turning point came during the second when the Bolts handed them consecutive power plays. After they killed off a Jason Garrison penalty, Tampa had no trouble taking care of an Andrej Sustr minor which changed the game allowing them to gain confidence. By that point, it was the Lightning who showed more urgency shorthanded with all four skaters in the Ranger zone forcing Lundqvist to make two saves. The Garden groaned.
On all four man-advantages, Vigneault went with the top unit of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Martin St. Louis, Derick Brassard and Dan Boyle. Miller, Kevin Hayes, Rick Nash, Keith Yandle and Ryan McDonagh were no better. Unlike the last three games where they had great success converting 6-of-13 for two power plays goals in each, the power kill failed them. Whether it was trying to be too fancy or the Lightning’s more aggressive approach, it really cost them.
As so often happens, all it takes is one mistake and the puck’s in the back of the net. That was exactly the case. The Bolts took advantage by catching all three Ranger forwards deep with Anton Stralman’s clear leading to a odd-man rush. With just Staal and Kevin Klein back, Staal fell down allowing Steven Stamkos to pass for a wide open Valtteri Filppula, who let go of a wrist shot that went high stick side on Lundqvist with 6:31 left in the second.
The Bolts then drew a dubious Staal trip with Nikita Kucherov embellishing it by falling to the ice. On the power play, they took full advantage by passing the puck around like the Harlem Globetrotters with Victor Hedman and Ondrej Palat threading the needle to Stamkos for a tap in increasing to 2-0 with 1:38 left in the period. A back breaker. The Rangers penalty kill was lost and left one of the game’s best snipers all alone.
For all intent and purposes, the game was over. Sure. They kept coming in the third. It just wasn’t enough. Despite strong support from a great crowd (not sure how it came across on NBC) which included myself, Justin and his buddy Mike, they weren’t able to get inside on the Lightning’s air tight D. They played similar to the Caps last round taking away time and space. It really confused our shooters.
The closest they came to scoring was off two set ups in the slot with Stepan having a shot deflected into the netting. He had the top half but couldn’t connect. Nash also had a good try but was denied by Bishop. It just wasn’t their night. It was a combination of the Bolts locking it up and the Blueshirts unable to get to loose pucks. They were outhustled.
Vigneault tried a couple of different combos giving Nash some shifts with Kreider and Stepan while also slotting Hayes up to that line for a shift in place of ineffective rookie Jesper Fast. Fast only got 18 shifts (11:18). Fourth liners Tanner Glass (5:57 in 9 shifts) and James Sheppard (6:21 in 7 shifts) were benched with Vigneault shortening up in search of offense. Carl Hagelin who has great speed also was limited to 13:04 in 20 shifts. His speed was noticeable during some shifts but didn’t play nearly enough.
Vigneault gave Yandle and Boyle big minutes with each getting over 22 including nearly four each on the power play. Yandle struggled in his end with turnovers while Boyle was more effective jumping up in the play to create offense. McDonagh was ineffective despite 21:59 in 27 shifts. The Rangers captain must elevate his game if they’re to avoid having their season end. Staal and Klein struggled and Dan Girardi was held down to 16:29. So, he should be fresh.
It’ll be interesting to see how this team responds to the challenge. They know it’s do or die. Can they go into enemy territory and come out victorious as a popular former captain did once with a performance for the ages 21 years ago? Or is it gonna be a repeat of 2012? It’s up to them.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Ben Bishop, Bolts (26 saves for 2nd career postseason shutout)
2nd Star-Steven Stamkos, Bolts (power play goal-4th goal of series, assist, 4 SOG, +1 in 14:46-played 6:20 less than Tyler Johnson)
1st Star-Victor Hedman, Bolts (assist, 2 SOG, 3 hits, blocked shot, +1 in 31 shifts-24:04-dominant throughout)