When the puck drops for Game Five tonight, both Filip Chytil and Ryan Strome are in.
That’s a relief. After leaving Game Three with a lower-body injury, Strome missed Game Four of the Eastern Conference Final. A game the Rangers lost decidedly 4-1 to the rejuvenated Lightning who evened the series.
It was also late in the second period of that loss that Chytil left with an upper-body injury after taking a good hit by Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. After not returning the other night, he’ll be available for tonight’s pivotal game.
Certainly, the Rangers need both key centers for tonight. Having not scored an even strength goal over the two losses at Tampa, it should provide a boost for Gerard Gallant’s lineup.
It wasn’t ideal having a shortened bench in either of the previous two games. Neither did it help that once Chytil went down on Tuesday night, Gallant had to mix and match lines. Barclay Goodrow wasn’t as effective centering Artemi Panarin and Andrew Copp. Neither was Kevin Rooney, who anchored the checking line..
With things less than ideal, Turk even split up his number one line. Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider have been inseparable. But with Kreider not going, he found himself out of place with Copp and Frank Vatrano.
Let’s just say nothing went right at Amalie Arena. It’s time to flip the script when Game Five drops at MSG later. That means the more familiar lines Gallant trusts. By getting both Strome and Chytil back, he can play the lineup that has better chemistry.
Update: Scratch that. It’ll be Rooney in for Ryan Reaves centering line four. I’ll have more on why later.
That also means we should see Strome back on the top power play unit with Zibanejad, Kreider, Panarin and Adam Fox. Chytil will be back on the second unit with Copp, Vatrano, Lafreniere and Jacob Trouba.
No matter what, the Rangers must play a lot better. There can’t be any passengers. They must be the aggressor and get in on the forecheck against the Tampa D. They didn’t do enough in the last two games and were mostly reduced to the outside by the Bolts.
Use the Garden crowd early. They’ll be behind them. It’s the biggest game this team’s played in a long time. It’s a chance to go up three games to two on the defending champs. Protect home ice.
They must do a better job against Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat. They were huge in Games Three and Four. Slow them down. The best way is to win that match-up by making them defend. Similar to what Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn and Brandon Hagel were able to do against the Zibanejad line.
Match-ups matter. Winning them are keys. So too is the Kid Line. They sure missed Chytil after he left. It’s that cohesive trio with Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko who provide energy by being able to cycle pucks down low and generate scoring chances.
Discipline remains a key. In Game Three, it was the Trouba penalties that really hurt the Blueshirts. The Bolts scored twice on the power play to come from behind to win Game Three with Palat getting the crusher with 41.6 seconds left in regulation.
Maintaining discipline isn’t just about avoiding the penalty box. It’s also about managing the puck. Defending well. The Rangers must get back to playing like a five-man unit to be successful. Do that and their chances increase.
Igor vs Vasy. By now, everyone knows how important the goalie match-up is. Featuring the game’s top two netminders, Igor Shesterkin and Andrei Vasilevskiy have taken care of business at home. Now, it’s a huge Game Five at The Garden. Whoever can make the key saves tonight will likely give their team an edge.
Fox and Hedman. In the first two games, it went to Fox. He controlled play and impacted both wins at home. However, he was held in check in the two losses at Tampa where it was Hedman who stepped up. They’re two of the best defensemen in the game. Fox will need to have a stronger night.
Clear the net. The past two games, the Lightning had a lot more success crashing Igor’s crease and making it tough by taking extra whacks after whistles. The Blueshirts must take care of that by pushing them out. Knock players down. But don’t take penalties.
Make life harder on Vasy. There’s no question Vasilevskiy was in a zone once his team fell behind two games. Especially when they gave up consecutive power play goals to trail by two in the all important third game. He was locked in and made the big stops. However, he hardly had to work in Game Four due to the lack of traffic. The Rangers have to make life harder on the Big Cat. Screen and get tips. Win those battles.
Undoubtedly, it’ll come down to who executes better. There will be urgency on both sides. But for the Rangers, it’s very important to win this game. They must be hungry. Win those loose pucks and board battles. They must out-work and out-grind the Lightning.
I’ll have more later.