This is moment that will define the Rangers


In less than an hour, the Rangers will stare elimination in the face once again. This time, it comes against a higher quality opponent in the awfully fast and supremely skilled Lightning. It will not be skated in quicksand like the previous round. It will be in your face with both teams desperate to win. The Lightning wanting to close it out and not go to Game 7 Friday at MSG. The Rangers not wanting their season to end in disappointment.

Urgency will be of the essence. If they want to keep it going, the Blueshirts must go that extra mile to win Game 6. They must be great. Or as coach Alain Vigneault said, they have to play their best game. Something that Marc Staal and Henrik Lundqvist echoed. They don’t want to have any regrets. They want to leave it all out there.

That means their best players must show up ready from the drop of the puck. There can’t be any passengers like there were the other night in a deflating loss. By now, Rick Nash knows his first ever two-goal playoff game isn’t enough. He still has only four goals during this run. He must go to the hard areas to score on Ben Bishop. That goes double for Chris Kreider, who still leads them with seven goals. He can’t be erased as easily as Lightning tandem Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman did to him along with their forwards.

Derick Brassard has had a knack for scoring in these type of pressure packed games. He must be better than the Sunday’s no show. He centers Nash. Brassard must create and get his nose dirty. He also must shoot as he has a good accurate shot especially on the power play that was dreadful in Game 5. When the opportunity presents itself, the decisions must be made instinctively without hesitation. A sea of white, red and blue need to make their presence felt in front of Bishop by crowding him.

It’s on this night that captain Ryan McDonagh must play purposeful unlike the uncharacteristic struggles we’ve seen. He is better than he’s shown. So is partner Dan Girardi, who must put on his cape and turn into the Broadway version of Superman. These are the kind of games you expect Danny G to shine in. Ditto for Marc Staal, who’s had a poor showing. There have been too many instances where he’s fallen down causing goals against for the Lightning Bolts. He and partner Kevin Klein better get it together.

Derek Stepan has proven himself to be a money performer in such big spots. He and USA linemate Kreider are key components to the Blueshirts’ success. Stepan is the straw that stirs the drink. When he makes things happen, it usually bodes well. The team’s leading scorer in the postseason has been kept off the score sheet the previous two. Tonight, he must do whatever it takes. Whether it’s scoring a big one or setting one up for his unit, this is the kind of game you expect D-Step to deliver in. Especially with a big raise coming this summer.

Martin St. Louis remains stuck on one goal thus far. He definitely had more jump than some of his younger teammates the other night. Facing the former team he led to their only championship over a decade ago, you’d expect him to play like his life depended on it. At age 39 with a cloudy future, this could be his final game this far with one last crack at Lord Stanley. You know it means everything to him.

Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle have provided the offense this series. They’ve been particularly good on the power play. Not the one we got Sunday which was a bad comedy from not just the two offensive blueliners but everyone as a whole. There can’t be any hesitation from either. Whether it’s when to go or when to react defensively. This is what GM Glen Sather got them for.

For some of the kids such as Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast, they’re getting baptized under fire. All three have provided good moments including Miller setting up Hayes on the power play in that near death Game 7 last round and Fast setting up Stepan for the emotional series clincher. They shouldn’t think. Just play.

For polished vets like Dominic Moore and speed demon Carl Hagelin, tonight is the kind of game they excel in. Tight checking where their guile and grit can come in. Both are strong forecheckers and must establish themselves. Moore also a key on faceoffs no matter how Vigneault uses him.

As for James Sheppard and Tanner Glass, they must muck it up in the corners and pressure Tampa’s D. Force some mistakes by taking the body. Remain disciplined. Their energy is important. It can inject life.

For Henrik Lundqvist, the King knows this is what he’s paid for. To be the stopper and backstop his team to another big win in an elimination game. He must be on his toes and know when to challenge the dangerous Triplets of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. He must be ready for Stamkos’ heavy shot and for Alex Killorn and Valtteri Filppula. And he knows former ‘mates Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle won’t make it easy in the trenches. He’s counted on to lead the way.

For Vigneault, it’s about making necessary adjustments if it comes down to it. If that means switching the lines or shortening up, so be it. He knows what’s expected and has delivered up to this point. That goes for the entire bench.

Tonight is the biggest game this franchise has had since that fateful Game 6 21 years ago. That night, a captain followed through on a promise and a special team captivated this city. It’s the 2014-15 Blueshirts’ chance to make their mark. It’s up to them.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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