Eastern Conference Final: Palat’s dagger with 41.6 seconds left completes comeback to take Game Three, Bad third costly, Strome leaves game, Missed opportunity for Rangers who lead Lightning in series 2-1

In the end, they burned and crashed. Unable to hold a lead in a lopsided third period, the Rangers blew it. They let the Lightning come back to win Game Three 3-2 at Amalie Arena in Tampa.

Ondrej Palat scored the dagger with 41.6 seconds left in regulation. He was able to take a slick Nikita Kucherov pass and beat Igor Shesterkin short side for the game-winner. It was the only even strength goal in the game.

A lousy third period cost them an opportunity to grab a stranglehold of the Eastern Conference Final. With their backs literally against the wall still down a goal, the Lightning rose up to the challenge by outscoring the Rangers 2-0. They outshot them 19-6.

When push came to shove, the two-time defending champs showed more urgency to grab Game Three. They are now back in it and trail the Rangers two games to one.

That makes Game Four on Tuesday pretty significant. It’s simple. Either play better and win on the road to pull within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals or lose and the series goes back to MSG tied with a pivotal Game Five on Thursday.

The way they played the third period, they got what they deserved. No excuses. When you have a wounded champion down, you have to finish them off. Instead, the Bolts delivered in crunch time and should be feeling much better about themselves.

Adam Fox, who didn’t distinguish himself in this one, summarized it up well. They didn’t play good enough in the third. Instead, the second of three mindless Jacob Trouba minor penalties led directly to Steven Stamkos tying the game from Corey Perry and Kucherov at only 1:22 into the period.

Trouba had a miserable day. He took undisciplined penalties. Twice, the Lightning took full advantage. It was foolish for Trouba to take an interference minor on Palat right after Chris Kreider had converted their second power play goal that put them up 2-0.

That penalty swung the momentum. Kucherov scored on the man-advantage from Victor Hedman and Stamkos to immediately cut the lead in half. From that point on, the game changed. It went the Lightning’s way.

After getting 32 shots on Shesterkin over the first two periods, the Lightning were all over his crease in the deciding third. One where a lack of killer instinct doomed the Blueshirts.

Even after they killed off a questionable goaltender interference penalty on Frank Vatrano, who was shoved into Andrei Vasilevskiy by Ryan McDonagh, the Rangers blew a chance to go back ahead.

They failed to capitalize on an errant high-stick by Kucherov that cut Mika Zibanejad. Instead of cashing in on the power play for the third time, they couldn’t get much done before another Trouba penalty killed whatever chance they had of regaining the lead.

From there, the more desperate Lightning played to win the game. Exactly what they did by concluding a dominant game at five-on-five by getting Palat’s stunner at 19:18 to make it a series.

Before I dissect the particulars on this one, I want to make a point about how ridiculous these reporters are who cover the games. At one point during his postgame press conference, Gerard Gallant was asked about the Lightning’ goalie tactics. This was absurd. I roasted it and got a lot of attention for being honest.

It’s the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. By now, you should know what to expect. I hinted at what the Lightning would do in a post prior to the game. If you’re not getting traffic on a great goalie, you probably won’t have much success. I don’t see the big deal.

Shesterkin felt the pressure and took a dive to draw one on Perry. I don’t care for embellishment. If you’re not a blogger who is objective, then take the rose-colored blue shades off. I call it like I see it. In the end, it balanced out. I didn’t like the call on Trouba that led to Stamkos tying it.

It’s time to break down where it went wrong. Why it’s now two games to one instead of three-zip.

Prior to the game start, everyone knew Jon Cooper would alter his lineup. He’d been going with the unorthodox seven defensemen, 11 forwards since Brayden Point went down in the seventh game of the first round. However, it was obvious he had to change it up for this game.

Cooper decided to dress Riley Nash and scratch Cal Foote. That way he had a regular 12 forward, six defensemen alignment. He also went with better lines by moving Stamkos back to center between Palat and Kucherov. Anthony Cirelli centered a second line that had Alex Killorn and Brandon Hagel on it. They blanketed the Rangers’ top line of Zibanejad, Kreider and Vatrano at even strength.

While Cooper made adjustments to get his team going, Gallant stuck with the lineup that’s been rolling since the end of the second round. Here’s how they looked.

Kreider-Zibanejad-Vatrano

Panarin-Strome-Copp

Lafreniere-Chytil-Kakko

Motte-Goodrow-Reaves

Lindgren-Fox

Miller-Trouba

Braun-Schneider

Shesterkin

Following a nice tribute to a veteran which is something I’ve noticed the Lightning do better than any other team, you had a wonderful anthem sung by the woman who does it. She’s really good.

Then came the drop of the puck. At the beginning, the match-up was established with the Cirelli line against the Zibanejad line. Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak were lined up against that line.

Being on the road allows the opponent to dictate what happens. Gallant never worries about that. If they don’t improve at even strength halfway through next game, it’s something to think about.

I’m terms of the start, the Lightning revealed part of their strategy on the game’s opening shift. Killorn finished an early check on K’Andre Miller. It was a physical game. Hitting was fierce throughout.

Another thing that was noticeable was they put pucks on Shesterkin from everywhere. McDonagh was more visible. When he wasn’t checking, he was firing shots on net. Shesterkin stopped him three minutes in.

On an active shift where he hit Ryan Lindgren and Hagel got Zibanejad, Cirelli got a long shot on Shesterkin that he froze. He was okay with stopping play to get face-offs. That’s due to his team having more success in the dots this round.

Following a good offensive shift for the second line where both Andrew Copp and Ryan Strome forced Vasilevskiy into saves, Shesterkin made one on Kucherov from the outside. Both goalies were on this game.

The Kid Line came out of their end and were able to generate something against the new Tampa third line of Nick Paul, Ross Colton and Nash. After Alexis Lafreniere tool a Mikhail Sergachev hit, Filip Chytil was able to get a good shot on Vasilevskiy that he turned away. On that same shift, Lafreniere had a tip-in blocked by Sergachev, who had a solid game.

It would be some pressure from the checking line of Barclay Goodrow, Tyler Motte and Ryan Reaves that helped set up two more point shots. After Miller went wide on one, Trouba had his denied by Vasilevskiy.

The action continued to pick up. Shesterkin made a strong denial on Kucherov to keep it scoreless. But at the end of his shift, he high-sticked Artemi Panarin.

Unfortunately, the Rangers couldn’t take advantage. Their first power play was abysmal. Paul dominated his shorthanded shifts by being aggressive along with Cirelli, who remains one of the most unheralded players. He got plenty of Selke votes. That went to Patrice Bergeron. A player I love.

Following a Copp shot that Vasilevskiy repelled, Trouba had his attempt blocked by McDonagh. He then sent a good outlet to lead Kucherov out of the box for a breakaway. But Shesterkin kicked it out with the right pad to keep the game scoreless. He looked so confident too.

The checking line then all were able to get looks on a strong shift. After absorbing a Sergachev hit, Goodrow stayed with it to force Vasilevskiy into one save. He then denied both Motte and Reaves. He was sharp. This was the world’s best goalie.

The teams continued to find open ice and test each netminder. On one side, Kucherov passed across for a Bogosian shot that Shesterkin handled. He also stopped Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and would later deny a rebound.

Following a few more Shesterkin saves, Trouba and Copp would have a two-on-one. But rather than take the open shot, Trouba telegraphed a pass across that a hustling Hedman made a great play on to break it up.

After a block from Trouba, Miller made a great rush into the Lightning zone and took a good shot on Vasilevskiy that he handled. Of all our defensemen, he was by far the best in this game. He made good reads, played physical defense and was very active. He continues to grow as a player.

You had your usual feisty play from pest Pat Maroon. The gritty veteran forward who’s won three straight Cups was a nuisance throughout. He finished checks including one on Trouba, who returned the favor.

If there was a turning point that would later impact the game, it had to be when during a late shift from the Panarin line, Strome got knocked down by Rutta after searching for a rebound of a Trouba shot. In the second period, he only took one shift before exiting the game for good.

Despite a high octane period where the teams combined for 27 shots in favor of the Bolts (15-12), there was no score. But it has plenty of action. The Bolts also were up 21-14 in hits. The Rangers led in face-offs 13-7 with Zibanejad going six-for-nine against Cirelli. Here was my input.

Maybe I noticed it early on. There was a different level of intensity from the Lightning. It wasn’t surprising. In essence, this was their season hanging in the balance.

It didn’t take long for an injury to effect the game. Strome was on for the second shift of period two. Then, he left the ice for the locker room hobbled. After returning to the bench once, he exited for good. It really threw the lines out of wack.

Gallant had Goodrow move up to take some shifts with Panarin and Copp. After a Shesterkin save on Hagel, that new line had some opportunities. Panarin was denied twice by Vasilevskiy. Then Goodrow once.

With Chytil struggling to win draws, Lafreniere took one instead. He didn’t win it against Paul, who’s a good overall player. But during that shift, Colton swatted at Shesterkin even though he stopped Perry. Lindgren responded. Both earned minors to cause four-on-four.

Not long into it, a turnover in the neutral zone led to Zibanejad interfering with Killorn. That gave the Lightning a four-on-three.

Despite some good movement, the Rangers penalty killers were superb. In particular, Miller who after a takeaway led a two-on-one with Goodrow, whose shorthanded bid hit the far goalpost.

With time winding down, Perry took a little hack at Shesterkin, who was out on the edge of his crease. He made light contact with Shesterkin, who went down as if he’d been shot. It was a penalty on Perry. But the embellishment from Igor was absurd. They easily could’ve given him one for the acting.

Following a pair of saves on Paul, out came the Rangers’ top unit. Only this time, it had Chytil on in place of Strome. The result was the same. On another great passing play between Panarin and Fox, they set up an open Zibanejad for a rocket blaster past Vasilevskiy at 7:37.

That gave them a 1-0 lead. It was the 10th of the postseason for Zibanejad on the power play from Fox and Panarin. Zibanejad has been on a roll. He would later add an assist to tack on two more points. His 24 (10-14-24) rank third in the playoffs trailing only Leon Draisaitl and leader Connor McDavid. Both are about to go bye-bye due to how bad Edmonton is. Colorado can sweep them tomorrow night.

After Nash bumped into Shesterkin for a legit goaltender interference call that some Tampa fans booed, things were looking up for the Rangers. After three saves from Vasilevskiy, this time a Zibanejad one-timer rebounded right for Kreider to bang home for his 10th at 9:44 for a two-goal lead.

The goal was the 34th of Kreider’s postseason career. In scoring it, he tied all-time great Rod Gilbert for first on the Rangers scoring list in the playoffs. Fittingly, it also gives him 62 combined between the regular season and postseason. That matches Adam Graves, who also went for 52 plus 10 in 1994. One more goal and Kreider will be all alone.

But when it felt like they had all the momentum, Trouba took an unnecessary minor for interference on Palat 25 seconds later to put Tampa on the power play. This was the turning point. There are moments where you can’t take penalties. I talked about Trouba needing to avoid the bad ones to win this series.

Right on cue, the Lightning perfectly executed their first power play goal on Sunday. After receiving a pass from Stamkos, Hedman made a good diagonal feed for a Kucherov one-timer past Shesterkin at 10:50. That quickly, they pulled within one with 9:10 left in the period.

Able to gain momentum from the Kucherov goal, the Lightning started to come. They had more possession time in the Rangers’ end. Shesterkin would stop a Sergachev shot with 6:04 left.

As they got into the final five minutes, it was back and forth similar to Game One. Vasilevskiy made a good save on Trouba. Chytil would then have his deflection go wide. After Shesterkin stopped McDonagh on one end, Chytil was denied by Vasilevskiy. Then, Shesterkin made a save on Bogosian.

On another effective shift from the Kid Line, Lafreniere was denied by Vasilevskiy, who wouldn’t give in. It was a passing play where Chytil and Kakko combined to get the puck over for Lafreniere, whose low shot was taken care of. That was a big opportunity.

Paul, whose been one of the Bolts’ most consistent players, then just missed tying it with over a minute left. With the seconds winding down, Maroon got one last hit on Zibanejad along the boards as the buzzer sounded. You didn’t have to like it. But he sure was a lot more noticeable than Reaves (1 hit). Maroon had six for the game.

Maybe I should’ve known right there what was in store for the third. If you don’t think those hits matter, you’re not paying attention. It set the tone before the Lightning even went to the locker room.

Sure enough, the Cirelli line buzzed on the first shift of the third period. They got three shots on Shesterkin with the last one from Hagel leading to another bad Trouba moment. He was called for holding Cirelli. It wasn’t much.

After one save by Shesterkin on Hedman, Copp came the opposite way and got a shorthanded chance that Vasilevskiy had. No problem. Right? Wrong. Led by Kucherov up ice, he handed for Perry, who then was allowed too much time to find a wide open Stamkos for his hammer past Shesterkin at 1:22.

Stamkos’ sixth was the Bolts’ second power play goal. Suddenly, it was all even at two with 19:38 left. At that point, every goal came on the man-advantage. Both teams were getting it done on the power play.

The problem was the poor start really came back to hurt. The Rangers never recovered. It was all Lightning. They got nine of the first 11 shots.

Every once in a while, the Rangers would get a look. It was one and done. While their offense fizzled, the Lightning sizzled. Everyone was shooting pucks on their side. They didn’t have to be told by Cooper. They also kept attacking Shesterkin’s crease. There wasn’t enough push back from the guys in the white jerseys.

Vatrano probably had their best scoring chance. After taking a feed, he cut in on Vasilevskiy and got off a tough backhand that he stopped. But he came together with McDonagh and bumped into the Lightning goalie. They called him for interference. It’s a 50/50 play. I hate that call.

On the kill again, this time an inspired defensive effort from Goodrow wouldn’t allow the Bolts to get shots through. Initially, Perry had two that were saved by Shesterkin.

Then, it turned into a block party highlighted by a diving Goodrow leaving his feet to reject Hedman. He could barely stand. Eventually, he got to the bench and limped off for repairs. Then returned. I love Goody. He’s all heart. Tampa fans still appreciate him.

By then, the shots were 44-26. Shesterkin was making the saves to give his team a chance to steal it. After a Cernak miss wide on sustained pressure by the Lightning, Kucherov lost his discipline by high-sticking Zibanejad for a double minor with 9:06 left.

Instead of making him pay, they didn’t. It was the Lightning’s turn to play strong on the kill. That included Fox absorbing an iffy hit from Cernak on the boards. It sure looked like his elbow came up.

They still had an extended five-on-four. But only Zibanejad got a shot on that Vasilevskiy saved. Kakko then missed on a tip-in. Not long after came the Bolts shorthanded led by who else but Paul. Chytil denied him. Trouba then had to take a penalty on Killorn. That was the moment I kind of felt the game was lost. It was only a matter of time.

As Tampa began to press the action at five-on-five, Gallant shortened his bench in a tie game. I could understand sitting Reaves. But why didn’t Braden Schneider get a shift? He doesn’t trust him now? I really disagree with what Turk did. He shortchanged himself and overworked the top guys.

Remember. He didn’t have Strome either. This was a bad job by a coach who’s done so much right. Your team was up two games. Not the other way around. He can’t be so conservative. Let’s hope it won’t bite him in the ass. They can win next game.

Aside from offering little in Vasilevskiy’s path, the Rangers iced the puck. They were exhausted. Not the other way around as some misguided foolish banter had claimed after the first two games. It felt like they were hanging on. As if they could rely on overtime. They never made it.

Instead, on just a superb play started by Cernak, he got the puck across to Hedman. He then passed to a tightly guarded Kucherov, who fooled everyone by one touching the puck over for a Palat one-timer short side on Shesterkin with 41.6 seconds remaining.

Game over. By the time they got Shesterkin off, all that was left was the Rangers scrambling around following a Tampa clear.

It was a bitter defeat. But they earned it. Outshot 19-6. 52-30 for the game. So add a save to Shesterkin’s line. He made 49 saves on 52 shots. Vasilevskiy stopped 28.

A noticeable difference was the Lightning’s edge at even strength. They held a 40-21 edge in shots with Palat getting his 10th career game-winner in the postseason.

As hard a loss as this was, it isn’t the end of the world. Zibanejad took the blame for puck watching on the play that led to Palat scoring. But he has been brilliant. It was simply a fantastic play by a clutch player. Kucherov made a great pass. Shesterkin was surprised by it too.

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Reaves sums up the significance of Game Three later today

In a few hours, the Rangers and Lightning will drop the puck on Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final in Tampa.

It’ll be an opportunity for the Rangers to grab a stranglehold of the series. If they can win for the third straight time against the two-time defending champs, they’ll be one game away from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals.

In order for that to happen, they’ll have to be at their absolute best this afternoon. The Lightning are back home where they’ll have strong support from their fans, who have come to appreciate what they’ve accomplished. Expect them to lift the Lightning up.

There’s been a lot of talk since the Rangers held off a late Lightning surge for a 3-2 win in Game Two. Whether it’s about the Bolts looking tired, or missing key center Brayden Point (of course he’s missed), that doesn’t matter.

What does is that there’s still work to be done. A series doesn’t end after two games. All the Blueshirts did was take care of home ice. The Lightning get the same opportunity starting after 3 PM today on ESPN. A win and they’re right back in it.

Before asking Igor Shesterkin if he feels any differently because he beat fellow Russian Andrei Vasilevskiy twice, how about using some common sense. That doesn’t apply to most New York media who cover the team.

Thankfully, Shesterkin handled it well. He respects Vasilevskiy and understands that it takes four wins in a seven-game series to advance. He’s still chasing a guy he looks up to. They’re rivals on the ice. But once it ends, it’s different. There’s a respect factor.

All of this leads up to the main storyline for this afternoon. Do the Rangers have the killer instinct to nail down a must win situation for the Lightning in enemy territory? Even if they’ll have some support from our fans who live in the area, we have to wait and see what happens.

For all the discussion from both sides yesterday, Ryan Reaves made the most sense. Regarding the significance of Game Three, the gritty fourth line energizer nailed it when he spoke to Mollie Walker of the New York Post earlier.

Considering his experience with Vegas, Reaves knows full well how important today’s game is. Things can turn quickly. The Rangers are living proof of that. They pulled it off last round. It didn’t come easy. They had to go into Carolina and win a Game Seven.

That win gave them more confidence entering this big match-up. It proved that they can come out with the victory on the road. But remember something else. In each of the first two rounds, it took them until their last try to get the wins needed to get here.

This is a different scenario. They’re leading the series two games to none. It’s the Lightning with their backs to the wall. They will have plenty of urgency. Make no mistake about it. The team we saw on Friday won’t exist today.

That’s why it’s a requirement for the Blueshirts to heed Reaves’ message. That’s a battle call. Expect there to be plenty of battles in the trenches. A lot more edge. Maybe a slower pace since the Rangers’ speed has given the Lightning problems.

They’ll look to dictate the pace. That probably means establishing more of a forecheck and getting traffic on Shesterkin. It likely signals a more structured defensive game. Something the Bolts can do. They executed it to perfection to frustrate the Maple Leafs.

Figure them to target Adam Fox. He’s been the most dynamic player in the first two games. He’s been given a lot of time and space, making the most of it. I would expect them to finish checks on Fox on soft dumps in the corner.

The Lightning will probably look to pinch their D more to keep pucks in the Rangers’ end. They’ll have to maintain their focus. That requires strong puck management and discipline. They had four power plays to the Bolts’ one last game. That could change.

It really comes down to competing for every loose puck and ounce of space. Chipping pucks out. Avoiding bad penalties. Withstanding the early push. It’s now or never for the Lightning. They know what today’s game means.

In terms of Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, the Rangers must know where they are at all times. There can’t be any wide open looks. Ditto Victor Hedman, who was heavily criticized for a bad Game Two. He’s a great player. There should be a strong response.

I would expect the gritty Lightning forwards like Anthony Cirelli, Ondrej Palat, Nick Paul, Corey Perry and Pat Maroon to be parked in front of Shesterkin. Those are tough players. It’ll be up to the Rangers to check well and continue a trend of clearing the slot area.

This is uncharted territory for most of the Blueshirts. Using the big game experience of Chris Kreider can help. Ditto for Reaves, Barclay Goodrow, Justin Braun and coach Gerard Gallant. They know about these kind of games.

It should be interesting. We’ll see if they have what it takes to end any suspense.

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Eastern Conference Final: Rangers go two up on Lightning by holding on for a 3-2 win to take Game Two, Fox and Miller lead the way

That’s two. The Rangers are two wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. They followed up a 6-2 win by holding on for a 3-2 victory over the Lightning to take Game Two at MSG.

Leading by two thanks to a big goal from Mika Zibanejad in the third period, they held on at the end to earn a hard fought one-goal win. With Jon Cooper lifting Andrei Vasilevskiy with 3:49 left, the move worked when Nick Paul was able to get behind and beat Igor Shesterkin to cut it to 3-2 with 2:02 left.

One thing about the Rangers. It’s never easy. You’d think some of the fans who continued the misguided “Igor’s Better,” chant would know that. A different crowd that doesn’t appreciate the franchise history.

So, when Paul did score at 17:58 to make it a one-goal game, it got tense. Having been under the weather, I opted to listen to Sam Rosen call the final 2:02 on ESPN Radio. I had the broadcast on for the whole game with the radio. But after seeing Paul’s goal on the delay, I decided to shut the ESPN television feed off.

Call it superstition. Call it whatever you will. It worked. Listening to Rosen call that final frantic 122 seconds with Dave Maloney was nerve racking. Exactly how it’s supposed to be.

After a couple of close calls with the Lightning centering a puck through the crease, they went offside with less than six seconds remaining. You could hear a sigh of relief on both Rosen and Maloney when one more clear sealed the victory on home ice.

Phew. That’s how it felt following key saves from Shesterkin on Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos with under a minute left. The Lightning pressed for the equalizer. But it never came.

Now, the Rangers lead the Eastern Conference Final two games to none with the series shifting to Tampa Bay for the next two. Game Three is Sunday at 3 PM. A rare afternoon game. That will probably determine what happens.

One thing is history. The Lightning’s win streak following losses in the postseason, which dates back to 2020. They were 18-0 after losing a playoff game. It had to end sometime. Credit the Rangers for doing so.

By winning Games One and Two, all they have done is hold serve by protecting home ice. We’ve been through this already last round against the Hurricanes. They should know full well that this series is far from over. Look what they did to Carolina after falling behind 2-0 and 3-2.

Now, the pressure is squarely on the Lightning. The two-time defending champs have not been in this situation the past two years. However, there’ll be plenty of urgency when the puck drops for Game Three. Something Cooper emphasized in a revealing postgame where he indicated that he felt his team didn’t manage the puck well enough.

The Tampa coach was dissatisfied with how the Bolts played during the first half of last night’s game. He thought the Rangers were better at managing pucks and limiting turnovers. Although Tampa picked it up in the second half including following the key Zibanejad goal 1:21 into the third, it wasn’t enough to come back.

For a second consecutive game, Shesterkin was better than Vasilevskiy. He made 29 saves on 31 shots including stopping 13 of 14 in the third period to win for the 10th time this postseason.

Vasilevskiy finished with 25 saves on 28 shots. Although he kept his team in it during a lopsided stretch in the second period, he’d probably want the Zibanejad goal back. It beat him high, stick side. An area that the Rangers have hit a few times already in the first two games.

The interesting aspect of Friday’s win was that it was their five-on-five play that made the difference. Indeed, all three of the Rangers’ goals were at even strength. They were opportunistic scoring three on 19 shots.

Vasilevskiy was superb on the penalty kill. He made nine saves on all four power plays. That allowed the Lightning to hang around. Even on a night he fought the puck on a few stops, the former Vezina and Conn Smythe winner gave his team a chance at the comeback.

For once, special teams wasn’t a strength. The Rangers went 0-for-4 on the power play and allowed a power play goal on the Lightning’s only man-advantage. Good thing they didn’t take anymore penalties.

Following another wonderful national anthem by John Brancy, who really should replace the now gone legend John Amirante (always forever in our hearts), the Rangers started their top line with K’Andre Miller and Trouba.

While the Gerard Gallant stuck with the same lineup, Cooper didn’t. He changed things up by having Anthony Cirelli between Ondrej Palat and Kucherov. I was surprised. That top line started the game with Victor Hedman paired up with Jan Rutta in another shakeup.

Maybe it’s just me. I thought Cooper panicked a little by splitting up Kucherov and Stamkos. My guess is they’ll be back together with Cirelli for Game Three.

Unlike the first game, Game Two had a different feel to it. It was more quiet. However, once the fourth lines were sent out, it didn’t take long for Ryan Reaves and Pat Maroon to start jostling. Before the face-off, it continued. For some reason, Reaves got the only penalty for slashing. Ticky tac.

On an early power play, it only took the Lightning 16 seconds to get the first goal. After Cirelli moved the puck up top for Hedman, he passed for a Kucherov shot that beat Shesterkin with Corey Perry in front at 2:41.

The first replay seemed to indicate that perhaps Perry tipped it. But after he was given credit, they changed it back to Kucherov.

After the goal, the Bolts picked it up after with more aggressive play. That included two misses from Alex Killorn and Stamkos. Following an icing, Cirelli went at Ryan Lindgren. Your usual playoff battles at this crucial time of year.

The Rangers would get a scoring chance on an Artemi Panarin steal that led to a good shot on Vasilevskiy. A couple of shifts later, the Kid Line buzzed in the Tampa zone. Kaapo Kakko missed a shot high and Filip Chytil had one right on Vasilevskiy, who shut it down.

Following a face-off, the Mika Zibanejad line got it going. Off a Killorn turnover, Chris Kreider and Frank Vatrano were able to lead Miller into the Lightning zone. After Brandon Hagel made a diving block, the puck came right back to Miller who beat Vasilevskiy by the glove with two players in front at 5:59.

That tied the game. It was a good response. Miller got his second of the postseason from Vatrano and Kreider. Good work by all three. Miller got a nice bounce to score on Vasilevskiy to tie it up.

A strong shift by fourth line led to Tyler Motte missing wide. It was a good forecheck from Motte, Barclay Goodrow and Reaves.

On a play that started inside his own zone, Stamkos had a good rush up ice that forced Shesterkin to make a tough save. On what was a two-on-two, the Lightning captain got behind Lindgren and Fox. He took a pass and was one-on-one with Shesterkin. But Stamkos was robbed by a great toe save by Igor to keep the game tied.

Following that key stop, Erik Cernak was called for roughing Zibanejad. This was another penalty that they didn’t call in Game One. Something Maloney alluded to on the radio.

The Rangers’ power play got some looks. After Vasilevskiy stifled a long Panarin try from the point, the top unit had some good movement. Following a wide Zibanejad try they retrieved, his shot pass for a Kreider tip-in was denied by Vasilevskiy.

After a Cirelli miss at one end, Motte countered the other way. With Hedman breathing down his neck, he still managed to get a backhand off that hit the goalpost. Braden Schneider then stepped up and missed wide. He would draw a slashing minor on Stamkos.

The second power play was more about the Lightning penalty kill. Paul, who earlier had a shorthanded attempt blocked, broke up a Ryan Strome shot. After a Vasilevskiy save on Zibanejad, Alexis Lafreniere had his tip try miss. The second unit actually had better pressure despite no shots.

When he returned, Stamkos got a nice hit on Andrew Copp. Old fashioned hockey. While the hitting picked up, there weren’t many shots. It was a defensive struggle. My main takeaway was that the game would be decided by the forecheck. How prophetic that was.

On a shift where he just passed the puck, Kucherov got knocked down by Miller. While Kucherov looked at the refs, they weren’t buying it. It was a clean hit. Miller really asserted himself throughout. It was one of his best games.

Out came the Kid Line. After Lafreniere hit the post on one chance, Kaapo Kakko tipped in an Adam Fox pass to put the Blueshirts up 2-1 with 2:28 left. The play was all about the brilliance of Fox. He got the puck from Chytil, faked and then moved it across for an easy Kakko finish. What a play.

Kakko now has points in three straight games. It was his second postseason goal. It’s nice to see him gaining confidence. He’s catching up to Chytil and Lafreniere.

With the period almost over, Trouba made a good recovery after Cirelli beat Miller. He blocked his shot. A superb read. Following a light turnaround shot from Palat that Shesterkin easily handled, the first came to a close.

Cal Foote got together with Miller and Trouba. Frustration. You could tell the Bolts were in this game.

In the second period, it was mostly Rangers early. Following some sustained pressure from the Lightning, Lafreniere was stopped by Vasilevskiy on a good opportunity. He then had an issue with a Motte backhand. But Perry helped freeze the puck.

Vasilevskiy continued to make saves. On a strong shift from the Zibanejad line, he stopped Fox on a backhand. One thing that’s noticeable so far is the Rangers’ speed. It’s causing problems for the Lightning, who aren’t as fast as the Hurricanes.

During another scrum, Foote was nabbed for roughing Copp. Pretty iffy. Very similar to the call on Reaves. Soft.

On their third power play, Panarin had a good rush up ice. After receiving an outlet from Shesterkin, he got a good shot on Vasilevskiy, who would also deny Chytil before it expired. At one point, the shots were 9-1 Rangers.

Shesterkin finally made a save on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. He would also stop Rutta later. The Lightning started to pick it up in the second half of the period. But they weren’t exactly getting the kind of scoring chances they did last game.

On a good defensive play by Panarin, he started a three-on-one. But a great play by Ryan McDonagh broke up a Copp pass.

The Kid Line continued to generate chances. Chytil was stopped by Vasilevskiy, who then made a save on Kakko. Right now, the Lightning have no answer for that line. Their confidence is high.

With over five minutes left, both Paul and Ross Colton were denied by a sharp Shesterkin. He would then make a tough save on a Cirelli deflection.

Shesterkin made a pair of good saves on Mikhail Sergachev. As the second period concluded, the fans were on their feet at The Garden.

Although the Lightning got nine of the last fourteen shots to close to within 22-19 overall, you never felt any pressure. At least, I didn’t. It didn’t sound like they played well. It’s a little different listening to the call with the ESPN feed delayed on Wi-Fi.

In the third, after an initial push by the Bolts, Zibanejad came back with a goal following a missed two-on-one by Vatrano. Kreider got the puck to Fox, who quickly gained the Lightning zone. In transition, his pass to Zibanejad allowed him to go high blocker on Vasilevskiy at 1:21. Not a goal you expect him to give up.

Zibanejad’s ninth of the playoffs gave the Rangers a much needed two-goal lead with 18:39 remaining. It was another example of Fox making the difference with a great read that led to the critical game-winner.

The Lightning would respond with more urgency. They had some pressure. But it was the secondary players who had the best chances. Hagel was stopped by Shesterkin. Colton missed on a couple. He’s a key scorer for the Bolts.

Following a bad Goodrow turnover, Maroon had a point blank chance. But he barely did anything with it. Shesterkin did get credit for the save. Motte then cleared the zone.

A Hedman turnover resulted in Lafreniere getting a chance. But Vasilevskiy made the save. It’s been that kind of series so far for the Lightning. They’ve turned pucks over. Part of it is the Rangers. Their ability to get in on the forecheck has been prevalent.

In what was one of the best plays of the game, Miller forced Stamkos wide. Stamkos came in with speed and tried to get around, but Miller was in good position to force him behind the net. That defensive play really shows how far he’s come. Miller is only 22.

As things escalated, Trouba leveled Cirelli at the Rangers’ blue line. He caught him with a clean shoulder to send the gritty Bolts’ center to the ice. Some Lightning fans didn’t like it. But there was nothing wrong with the hit. Leave it to bitter Pens fans who are still upset over Trouba’s hit on Sidney Crosby. Also clean.

Some more good work from Lafreniere in the neutral zone led to a bogus tripping minor on Hedman. This was a total fake out. Maloney even said it on the radio. Lafreniere was going down and then got back up. What a soft call.

With a chance to put it away, they couldn’t. The power play didn’t do much. Panarin had the only good shot that Vasilevskiy handled. Trouba would get a long try near the end.

As time began running out, Cooper knew he had to be aggressive pulling his goalie. That was due to how the Rangers defended the net front. They took care of the slot area. With 3:49 remaining, Vasilevskiy went to the bench for a six-on-five.

It looked like the Rangers would not give up much. They defended well only allowing a Stamkos shot in 90 seconds. But a quick up from Kucherov to Perry allowed him to find an open Paul in front. He was able to deke Shesterkin and tuck it into the net on the forehand at 17:58 to make things interesting.

Before he lifted his goalie again, Cooper had to wait until his team got possession. Once they did, off Vasilevskiy went for the extra attacker. It really got hectic in the final countdown.

With the desperate Lightning searching for the equalizer, Shesterkin stopped both Kucherov and Stamkos in the final minute. After an icing, Cooper took his timeout with 37 seconds to go.

Following another icing, Stamkos won an offensive draw from Goodrow. Hedman was able to get a shot on from the outside that Shesterkin stopped. Then came a hairy sequence where the Bolts came close. You could tell by Rosen’s call.

But they went offside with only six seconds to spare. After one more draw between Goodrow and Stamkos, another clear killed the remaining seconds to clinch a Rangers win.

It’s crazy how close the Lightning came to forcing overtime. Can you even imagine what that building would’ve been like? I think JD said it best in our group chat.

The bottom line is they got it done. Even if the Bolts made it stressful, that’s how it’s supposed to be. These games should have drama. The Rangers were victorious because they were better overall.

Now, we find out what happens when the series moves to Tampa. Don’t count the Lightning out. There’s a narrative out there about them looking tired. I doubt they’ll be tomorrow afternoon in a must win situation. It’ll take a great effort for the Rangers to get Game Three.

It sure is nice to be leading a series two games to none. Now, we find out about this team’s killer instinct. As Mark Messier once said, “Go for the throat.” Don’t let the two-time defending champs off the hook. It sure sets up a pivotal Game Three.

Three Stars 🌟 🤩 ✨️

3rd 🌟 Mika Zibanejad game-winner (9th of postseason), 4 attempts, 9-for-19 on face-offs, +2 in 24 shifts (20:29)

2nd 🌟 🤩 K’Andre Miller NYR goal (2nd of postseason), 3 takeaways, 2 blocks in 29 shifts (23:15)

1st 🌟 🤩 ⭐️ Adam Fox NYR 2 primary assists, 4 attempts, 4 takeaways, +2 in 27 shifts (25:12)

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Gallant comes in third for the Jack Adams, Rangers look to go up 2-0 on Lightning

On an off day, the Rangers prepared for Game Two against the Lightning. Gerard Gallant and several players spoke to the media about the mindset entering tonight’s big game at MSG.

It’s a chance to go up two games to none against the two-time defending champion Lightning. A team that doesn’t lose two straight since they went on this run. Can the Rangers throw a wrench into the Bolts’ perfect 17-0 record following losses?

While that Gallant quote could get taken out of context, he was being matter of fact. If you saw him speak during the press conference, he didn’t dismiss the remarkable Bolts’ record. He was very tongue in cheek.

It’s interesting to note that he has a very good relationship with Lightning coach Jon Cooper. They coached together for Canada at the World Championships a few years back. That allowed Gallant to get to know Cooper.

He was quick to point out how much respect he has for Cooper. They keep up with each other via text. Obviously, during the next two weeks, friendships are put to the side. Just ask Ryan McDonagh about former teammate Chris Kreider. And vice versa. That is part of the storyline.

The last tie to the 2015 Eastern Conference Final on the Rangers’ side is McDonagh. He and Kreider were teammates during that run. McDonagh playing through a broken foot in what proved to be a heartbreaking series loss to the Lightning. Now, he’s on the opposite side.

For the Bolts, they boast more holdovers from that hard fought series. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy and injured center Brayden Point. Point has been skating, but can’t push it due to the foot injury he suffered against Toronto. His status is doubtful for the series.

While McDonagh has ties to the Rangers, Barclay Goodrow certainly does to the Lightning. He helped them win back-to-back Stanley Cups. One-third of their old third line that all departed due to salary cap issues and expansion, Goodrow is the kind of hard-nosed player who can be a factor in such a series. He gets his nose dirty and adds grit along with Tyler Motte.

Although the checking line was on for the Lightning’ first goal scored by Stamkos on a rocket in the first period, they got better as Game One evolved. Ryan Reaves was a physical presence, finishing checks and getting in on the forecheck. He also got involved late with Pat Maroon when things got nasty. He was all smiles as he stood over Maroon during a fracas. He’s certainly added that key ingredient for the Rangers.

On Thursday, it was also announced that Darryl Sutter won the Jack Adams. He did an outstanding job with the Flames guiding them to a division crown and a great regular season. However, they lost in five games to bitter Alberta rival Edmonton last round.

Gallant was up for Coach of The Year. But for some mystifying reason, he finished a distant third behind Sutter and runner-up Andrew Brunette. It is a little perplexing. Gallant didn’t come in with high expectations. He did a great job getting a younger Rangers team to buy in. That’s why they’re here.

In many ways, they take on Gallant’s cool demeanor. There’s no panic. That explains how they made NHL postseason history in becoming the first team to complete a 3-1 series comeback where they trailed in each elimination game. Their resilience also helped them rally from a 3-2 deficit to upset the Hurricanes. No small feat.

The Blueshirts have been defying the odds all year. They’ve bucked the trend in the overemphasized analytics the hockey community uses. Having a great goalie in Igor Shesterkin certainly helps. But he doesn’t score goals. They have been a comeback team who never gives up. True character.

A lot of the focus yesterday was on the success of the Kid Line. With Filip Chytil recording his second two-goal game of the postseason that gave him five goals in the last three games, they’re getting a lot of notoriety. It’s well deserved.

Alexis Lafreniere has nine points in his first playoffs at only 20. He’s been a consistent performer. The former top pick in 2020 gets involved physically. He’s effective on the walls and isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty. Good characteristics for a young player who’ll only get better.

Kaapo Kakko had one of his best games. He was noticeable throughout Game One. On The Shift, he forced Vasilevskiy into a tough save. He also set up Chytil’s first goal by making a great play behind the net. There’s no denying his ability to control the puck down low.

Entering tonight’s big Game Two, what should be expected is a much better effort from the Lightning. They showed some rust in the 6-2 loss on Wednesday night. Figure the Bolts to be harder on the puck and tighter defensively. It’ll take the Rangers’ best effort to snap that Tampa Bay win streak following losses.

If there is an area they can clean up, it’s preventing the dangerous combo of Kucherov and Stamkos to get open in the slot for great chances. They missed on some really good looks. Defending the middle is a key to victory.

It should be interesting. We’ll see if the Rangers can earn a win and put real pressure on the Lightning.

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Eastern Conference Final: Rangers thunder past Lightning 6-2 to take Game One, Chytil scores twice in  dominant second period, Special Teams a difference, Shesterkin outplays Vasilevskiy

Shift Of The Game: The third line forecheck leads to Filip Chytil’s second goal of the second period to make it 4-2. On a great keep by Adam Fox. Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller combine to set up the game’s First Star Filip Chytil for his fifth goal over the last three games.

It’s not often you see a dominant performance in a Conference Final game. That’s what happened tonight at MSG in Game One of the Eastern Conference Final.

Playing for the first time in the third round since 2015 against the same opponent, the Rangers took the first game over the Lightning 6-2 before a raucous atmosphere at 33rd and 7th. They lead the series one game to none.

That they flat out dominated the two-time defending champion Lightning in Game One was unexpected. But that’s exactly what happened. They were far better than a Tampa Bay team that entered the game on a nine-day layoff.

The difference was a great second period. After holding off the Bolts to a 1-1 tie in a back and forth opening period, it was the Rangers who took control by outscoring the Lightning 3-1. They also had a 17-10 edge in shots, which along with a stronger forecheck helped build a two-goal lead.

Even better, it was Filip Chytil who had an outstanding game. He scored twice in the second half of the second and notched the game-winner to earn the game’s First Star. He now has five goals in the last three games including a pair in Game Six and one in the Game Seven victory over the Hurricanes.

It was remarkable. As highlighted above in the shift of the game, the young trio of Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko had a dominant shift on sustained pressure that led directly to his second goal that put the Rangers up 4-2 with 4:17 left in the second period.

The so-called Kid Line combined for five points (2-3-5) and finished with five shots, eight attempts with a combined plus-six rating. It was the splendid play of the third line that made a huge difference. Their ability to use their speed and get in on the forecheck proved to be the key to the win.

While the Lightning focused largely on the top two lines with even coach Jon Cooper changing the match-up following an early Chris Kreider goal 71 seconds in, they didn’t have an answer for the Chytil line. All three forwards were superb. They got plenty of love from The Garden crowd.

In a game they never trailed despite the Lightning coming back twice to tie it up, six different Rangers had two points. Eleven skaters registered a point.

Igor Shesterkin also outplayed Andrei Vasilevskiy in the first big meeting between the game’s best two goalies. He made 37 saves on 39 shots including some big ones early and a critical stop to deny Alex Killorn with the game still tied.

It was a tough night for Vasilevskiy, who entered play having stopped 151 of 154 shots in a sweep of the Panthers. Instead, he was rudely greeted by Kreider at 1:11 on a two-on-one feed from Mika Zibanejad. Of the six goals he allowed on 34 shots, the one the Conn Smythe winner gave up to Frank Vatrano less than eight minutes into the second period was one he’d want back.

Although the stat line was ugly for such a great goalie, he wasn’t to blame. His team played poorly in front of him. They made costly mistakes in coverage that led to plenty of openings for the Rangers to take advantage of.

Chytil’s game-winning goal came on a blown assignment from right in front. He also was again left wide open for his second of the game. Artemi Panarin also converted a two-on-one rush 30 seconds into the third to extend the lead to three. Zibanejad buried a one-timer from the left circle on a Panarin pass across for a power play goal that put the exclamation point on Game One.

It was that kind of night at the World’s Most Shameless Arena. Think dollar signs folks. It sure is an expensive ticket. The less said about that, the better. At least the fans who went got their monies worth.

At the beginning of the game on ESPN, you had the match-up I expected. Cooper started Victor Hedman and Erik Cernak with his second line against the Panarin line. Gerard Gallant had Miller and Jacob Trouba on for the opening shift.

After a couple of hits, out came the Zibanejad line. Initially, they went head to head with Steven Stamkos, Anthony Cirelli and Nikita Kucherov. However, former Ranger Ryan McDonagh stepped up to hit Vatrano. While absorbing the hit, he chipped the puck up to lead Zibanejad and Kreider on a two-on-one.

After receiving the pass right on his tape, a patient Kreider set himself and fired a laser high blocker past an outstretched Vasilevskiy for the game’s first goal at 1:11. It was a perfect start. Kreider’s ninth of the postseason pulled him within one goal of the Rangers franchise record held by Rod Gilbert. He scored 34 goals in the playoffs.

As expected, Cooper went with the 11 forward, 7 defensemen alignment. However, he made a quick adjustment. Following the Kreider goal, he switched the assignments. McDonagh and Bogosian were matched against Panarin, Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp. That left Hedman and Cernak against Zibanejad, Kreider and Vatrano.

That wasn’t all. Maybe sensing that his team was rusty due to over a week off, Cooper split up Kucherov from Stamkos. He flipped Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. Palat moved onto the Stamkos line with Cirelli while Kucherov worked with Paul and Killorn.

The moves paid off. The Lightning responded well by getting five of the next six shots. On a dangerous shift by their new second line, Hedman had a shot go wide with traffic in front. Then Panarin took a tough hit from McDonagh. He didn’t get all of him as Panarin ducked to absorb the contact.

After a good save from Shesterkin on Hedman, the Lightning were able to get their top line out against the Rangers’ checking line. With Miller and the forwards unable to clear the puck, Cirelli got it over to Jan Rutta, who dished across for a wicked Stamkos one-timer that beat Shesterkin high blocker to tie the game at 7:12.

That was a great shift by the Bolts. They won the board battles and the loose pucks to set up Stamkos’ fifth of the postseason. He was one of their best players. He could’ve had more, but would miss on a point blank chance at a critical point later on.

If there was an area they struggled with, it was handling the Lightning forecheck pressure. They were able to force several turnovers that could’ve led to goals against. Fortunately, it didn’t.

Not long after the Stamkos goal, Kucherov had a two-on-one from in front. But his tip-in try was denied by Shesterkin to keep it tied. That was a close call.

The Rangers got a lift from the fourth line. After being on for a goal against, the trio of Barclay Goodrow, Tyler Motte and Ryan Reaves put together two consecutive shifts where they spent time in the Lightning end. During one shift, Motte had a backhand go wide.

On the next shift, an aggressive Vatrano got a good hit on Paul in the neutral zone. He was very active throughout. Not considered the most physical player, he finished with five hits to go with a goal and an assist. It was his most assertive game since the first round.

On a Chytil face-off win in the offensive zone, Fox tested Vasilevskiy with a quick wrist shot that he handled at the halfway mark of the period. At that point, the play was very even and wide open. A noticeable difference from the second round.

With the second lines going head to head on a shift, it was the Bolts who applied heavy pressure in the Rangers’ end. Some more spotty play from Trouba and Miller almost cost them. But a hustling Miller hustled back to get a piece of a Kucherov shot that probably was headed in.

He also would get open for a good scoring chance. While being double shifted by Cooper on the fourth line with Maroon and Bellemare, a strong cycle saw Kucherov get loose for a shot in front that Shesterkin coolly handled.

On a good forecheck by Zibanejad and Kreider, Vatrano tried a backhand wrap-around that Vasilevskiy denied. The shots were even at six apiece.

Kucherov and Stamkos continued to get golden opportunities. However, they weren’t able to bury them. Whether it was Shesterkin making the big saves or getting help from his defense with Trouba preventing a goal, the Rangers were a bit lucky in the first period.

They did earn the game’s first power play when Chytil was held by Brandon Hagel. After a strong pad save from Vasilevskiy to deny Zibanejad, an aggressive Bolts’ penalty kill forced some mistakes to get the puck out. Paul had a takeaway to test Shesterkin shorthanded. He made the stop.

With time winding down, a good rush by Panarin allowed him to find the trailer Fox for a shot that went wide. The first concluded with it still tied.

For the most part, the stats were even. Tampa led in shots 11-8 and attempts 20-16. The Rangers had 11 giveaways. Something that had to be cleaned up. Here was my urgent message for the team.

The second period was interesting. At first, it was back and forth. But as it moved on, it was the Rangers who dictated the terms. Their heavier forecheck made a difference.

Early on, Zibanejad got a tricky deflection on Vasilevskiy that he made a good save on. Prior, he also stopped Miller on a tough low shot.

The third line had a tough time on an early shift against Stamkos. They turned it over three different times. But Stamkos missed wide on a one-timer from the slot. That’s probably in if he hits the net. Those kind of misses were part of the story for the Lightning.

They would have another great look at going ahead. When a changing Trouba fell down, it looked like they’d go ahead. Instead, a racing Vatrano broke up a two-on-one by blocking a pass across. Some great hustle.

At the first stoppage, an aggressive Lafreniere searched for a rebound that wasn’t there with Vasilevskiy covering. He got the treatment after the whistle. Playoff hockey.

On a shift, Fox was able to find Vatrano open for a long shot that beat Vasilevskiy high blocker for a 2-1 lead at 7:50. It was a good shot, but one Vasilevskiy would want back.

The next few minutes were insane. With the play continuing to be wide open, both teams had chances. First, Hedman hit a post. Then, Shesterkin stopped Ross Colton. On the other side, Strome was robbed by Vasilevskiy.

On a rush, Stamkos got off a tough backhand that Cirelli deflected off Shesterkin. The rebound came right to Palat, who sent his backhand past him to tie the score at 8:32.

But after goals 42 seconds apart, Chytil answered back 1:37 later. On a good cycle where Lafreniere sent the puck behind the net to Kakko, he came out and centered for an easy Chytil finish to put the Blueshirts back up 3-2. That made it three goals over 2:09. Something nobody could’ve predicted.

With an assist on the goal, that gave Lafreniere eight points. The most for a Ranger in the playoffs 20 years old or younger. He wasn’t done. The former top pick continues to blossom before our eyes on the biggest stage. Where are all the nimrods who called him a bust? Probably crying in their beer.

On a key shift where Miller pinched up, the Lightning were able to move the puck ahead for Killorn. With Miller giving chase, Killorn moved in and was thwarted by a clutch Shesterkin. It was the biggest save of the game.

What followed was the shift. It started with great pressure from the third line. Vasilevskiy made tough saves on both Chytil and Kakko. But with Mikhail Sergachev and Cernak pinned in due to the long change, they couldn’t get the puck out.

On what was a great keep by Fox, who’s a magician on those plays at the blue line, he got the puck to Lafreniere. He then moved it across to Miller. He then sent a perfect pass across for a Chytil one-timer past Vasilevskiy that gave him his second two-goal game in the PLAYOFFS! The same Chytil who had eight goals in the regular season. He now is up to seven for the postseason.

It was phenomenal. To see those three kids who are all 22 or younger play so well is so exciting. They deserved all the cheers they received. This is what The Letter was all about. I wonder what Jeff Gorton and John Davidson are thinking. They had a hand in this.

The best part was they finished the period. There were no late Lightning goals that could’ve given them momentum. The Rangers outshot Tampa 17-10. All at five-on-five. The best period of the season.

The game wasn’t over until it was. With severe thunderstorms in our area temporarily knocking out the TV, I switched to the radio for the third. Getting the chance to listen to the legendary Sam Rosen call the action alongside Dave Maloney didn’t disappoint. It was enjoyable.

On a play started by Trouba up to Copp, he fed Panarin on a two-on-one for a perfect wrist shot that went high, short side to put it away at just 30 seconds in.

That finished off the Lightning. They committed too many mistakes. Panarin sucked Killorn into a fugazi holding minor. Basically, he created the penalty and spun around.

Back on the power play, this time they connected. After some good saves from Vasilevskiy on Panarin and Zibanejad, the top unit finally converted when Fox and Panarin combined to set up Zibanejad for a rocket that made it 6-2 with 13:54 remaining.

One of the ridiculous storylines was how the Rangers hadn’t faced a starter in the first two rounds. Outside of Tristan Jarry who they beat in Game Seven, that’s true. But they still had to earn it. Especially with Carolina defending so well in front of Antti Raanta. Sometimes, you need luck to go deep. In this round, they’re facing the best goalie. JD nailed it here.

Then came the chants of “Igor’s Better,” from some misguided fans. Ridiculous. You’d think we were a new franchise. Not one that’s been in existence for nearly a century. It’s foolish to be chanting that during the first game. Talk after the series if they win.

With the game decided, that didn’t stop the Lightning from mucking it up late. With 1:46 left, it got heated. There had been some battles and talking throughout. But with Goodrow getting an original penalty for cross-checking Hagel, you had Cal Foote repeatedly punch Motte with his glove on. Maloney went nuts on the radio.

Speaking of which, Reaves wanted Maroon. The linesmen broke it up. Braden Schneider exchanged pleasantries with Bellemare. Justin Braun and Hagel did the same. You also had Goodrow and McDonagh mixing it up. In total, there were 11 minors for 22 penalty minutes at the 18:14 mark.

Once that dissipated, things cooled down. As the buzzer sounded, the leftover Rangers congratulated Shesterkin. Now, it’s onto Game Two on Friday. You know the Lightning are coming. They’ll have a better effort tomorrow night. They just have to be ready for it.

Great game. They now have a series lead for the first time in this postseason. Don’t settle. Get the next game to really put the pressure in the Bolts.

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Eastern Conference Final: Never Say Die Rangers look to crash Lightning party in fascinating series

Igor Shesterkin leads the upstart Rangers into the Conference Finals against Andrei Vasilevskiy and the two-time defending champion Lightning. Photo by Rangers

There’s no rest for the weary. At least in the case of the Rangers, they has one day off to prepare for the Lightning in a fascinating Eastern Conference Final that begins later tonight on Broadway.

Indeed, it’s the upstart Blueshirts challenging the two-time defending champion Bolts in the Conference Finals. The winner advances to play for the Stanley Cup.

It doesn’t get much bigger. The stakes are high. This time, the Rangers are big underdogs. This isn’t the Penguins or Hurricanes. It’s the championship caliber Lightning, whose Cup experience is well documented. Until they’re defeated, no team is better prepared to win it all.

We’re talking about a potential dynasty here. In battling back from a 3-2 series deficit to beat the Maple Leafs in the first round, they once again showed why they’re the champs. Their postseason success doesn’t allow them to panic. After sweeping the rival Panthers in epic fashion, they’ve won 10 playoff series in a row. A remarkable accomplishment in the salary cap era.

That they were able to reel off the last five wins without clutch center Brayden Point (lower-body injury) speaks volumes about how great a team they are. Even if he doesn’t return for this round, they still boast proven stars in Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and the game’s best goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Boasting such clutch performers along with a strong supporting cast that features Ryan McDonagh, Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat makes them very tough to beat in a best-of-seven series. When you throw in deadline additions Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel to a deep roster that includes Erik Cernak, Mikhail Sergachev, Ross Colton, Corey Perry and Pat Maroon, it’s no wonder they’re like Michael Myers, Jason and Freddy Krueger.

You can’t kill them off. Just ask the Leafs and their suffering fans, who again are wondering what their team has to do to advance past the first round. They were in good position to eliminate the Lightning, even leading by a goal until Kucherov forced overtime on a five-on-three goal. Tampa would win the elimination game on Mr. Overtime, Point’s goal in sudden death.

Then they shutdown Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and the rest of the high powered Maple Leafs’ offense to oust them 2-1 in Toronto. A pair of goals from Paul and 30 saves from the ever clutch Vasilevskiy allowed the Lightning to win a challenging seven-game series.

Many observers including myself couldn’t wait for the Battle Of Florida. But unlike last year’s very nasty and closely fought first round won by the Bolts in six games, they outclassed the Panthers by winning four straight to return to the Conference Finals over a week ago.

In fact, they outscored the high scoring Cats 13-3 in a shocking sweep. Vasilevskiy was at his absolute best in stopping 151 of 154 shots to post a ridiculous .981 save percentage. He was unbeatable.

It didn’t matter that the Panthers boasted a great offense with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau headlining it. They simply didn’t play the kind of style necessary to go far in the playoffs.

The Lightning are willing to sacrifice by winning the board and puck battles in the trenches. They finish checks and dive to block shots. That’s what makes them so tough. They learned the hard way when the Blue Jackets swept them in a shocking first round upset. Since then, Jon Cooper’s team have become the perfect model on how to construct a winning roster.

Can they be beat? Sure. It won’t be easy. Throw out the season series that saw the Rangers win all three meetings. It means nothing. If that stuff really mattered, they would’ve rolled the Penguins in the first round and lost to the Hurricanes in the second round.

Instead, they got off the mat to come back and beat the Pens from a 3-1 deficit. In the process, they made NHL history by becoming the first team in the postseason to ever rally from such a deficit and trail in all three elimination games before winning. Artemi Panarin won it on a power play goal in overtime after Mika Zibanejad tied it.

They couldn’t figure out how to win at Carolina for three games of what really had been a home ice series. But they never panicked. Barclay Goodrow returned to help provide a spark in a Game Six win at MSG. A game where Filip Chytil scored twice and was a standout player.

Having Igor Shesterkin certainly has helped them reach this point. The unflappable 26-year old netminder who’ll win his first Vezina, which will be revealed soon, has proven why he’s considered one of the game’s best goalies. Although he now has the big game experience to go along with a tremendous regular season, he knows who he’s up against. He called fellow Russian Vasilevskiy the best goalie in the sport. Until proven otherwise, that’s true.

Without Shesterkin, the Rangers aren’t here. He was outstanding in a first period controlled by the Hurricanes, who did everything but score. Despite giving up a pair of power play goals to Adam Fox and Chris Kreider, the Canes easily could’ve been tied or even up after the first period. Igor was the difference making several big saves with his best coming on Teuvo Teravainen, who was robbed six seconds following Kreider’s goal that made it 2-0. That toe save will be replayed for a while if Shesterkin can help lead the Rangers to the upset and win the Cup.

Of course, that’s a long way off. The Lightning are easy to admire. They have high character players and well respected stars who play the game the right way. That doesn’t mean they won’t mix it up. They will. They have Perry and Maroon for that along with their version of Ryan Lindgren in Cernak. Kucherov is known for playing with edge when things aren’t going his way. They’re the champs for a reason.

If you think the Lightning won’t get some leeway from the refs, you’re sadly mistaken. They have a great reputation. This isn’t to say the officiating will be a factor. However, we’re talking about a proven winner. They’ll get the benefit of the doubt over the Rangers, who are new to the party. Of course, they have to play their game as Gerard Gallant likes to say. But they’ll also want to avoid unnecessary penalties this round.

Let’s just say the Lightning aren’t a team you want to put on the power play. They are the polar opposite of the anemic and overly predictable Hurricanes. The weapons Kucherov, Stamkos and Hedman provide can be lethal. Especially if you give Kucherov time to set up shop at the right circle. He dictates what happens.

One thing I’ll also add on the Bolts is they will take undisciplined penalties. They did during the 82-game season and have at times during the playoffs. However, they’ve had some enormous penalty kills that gave them momentum. Similar to the Rangers, who have been strengthened by the returns of Tyler Motte and former Lightning two-time Cup winner Barclay Goodrow. That grit makes a difference.

The interesting thing is that the Lightning have found good replacements for Goodrow, Yanni Gourde and Blake Coleman. They added both Paul and Hagel at the trade deadline. Paul is a very good checking center who is a shorthanded threat. Hagel is a tenacious worker who can chip in as well. His status is still uncertain for Game One. But he did skate yesterday.

While we know about the bigger names who get it done for the Bolts, keep an eye on Colton. He’s been scoring better all year. It looks like another hidden gem they found late in the draft is becoming a player you must pay attention to. So far in this postseason, Colton AKA Ross The Boss (credit to PurpleBolt18) has five goals. None were bigger than his last second crusher on a brilliant feed from Kucherov to stun the Panthers to win Game Two. They never looked back.

When they can have the very battle tested Perry who’s still chasing his second Cup, playing in a support role where Cooper makes good use of him on the power play where he remains a pest, that explains why Tampa is so hard to beat. Add in Maroon, who’s trying to win his fourth straight Cup, and it defines their depth and experience.

How do the Rangers match up? For starters, they boast some star talent that have gotten them here. The trio of Zibanejad, Fox and Shesterkin have really delivered in key moments. So has true captain Chris Kreider. You had to figure he’d come through when it mattered most on Monday night. His two goals including the brilliant rush and power move finishing off the Hurricanes. Fifteen goals in elimination games places him second all-time in NHL Playoff history behind Mark Messier (16). Amazing stuff.

What about Andrew Copp? The guy I wanted before the deadline has been money. He’s fit in well on the second line with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. In fact, it’s the good Copp who leads the way with 12 points (6-6-12). That’s one ahead of Panarin, who’s obviously battling through an injury. At least he looked better in the final two games last round. They’re gonna need him to win this series.

Frank Vatrano has also been solid while mostly playing on the top line with Zibanejad and Kreider. His speed and shot make him a threat. With the third line that features first round picks Alexis Lafreniere, Chytil and Kaapo Kakko going well, don’t expect any changes unless Gallant has to. He doesn’t like to mess with chemistry, but will adjust in game if things aren’t clicking.

If there are two big factors that have had an impact on their run, it’s the play of both Ryan Lindgren and Jacob Trouba. There’s no question that Lindgren being able to return against the Pens fueled their comeback. He battles as hard as anyone. Even with whatever is ailing him, the warrior will come back from the locker room after taking a beating and give whatever he can to help the team win.

As for Trouba, his physical brand of hockey is well known by now. An honest player who will step up and deliver clean hits to opponents, the rugged defenseman is a big key to the team’s success. When he is more instinctive and plays his game, Trouba can really impact games. Just ask Sidney Crosby and Seth Jarvis. Here’s hoping Jarvis will be okay.

There’s two areas Trouba must clean up in the Eastern Conference Final. The turnovers in his end. He can sometimes be forced into giveaways by an aggressive forecheck. He also has a penchant for taking bad penalties. Something he must limit versus the opportunistic Lightning. They will need him out there at five-on-five and on the penalty kill. He can also be a bit scary on the power play. He’s not exactly great at keeping pucks in.

Partner K’Andre Miller remains overlooked. While he’s getting notoriety for how he’s handled the heavy minutes and tough assignments, the second-year defenseman is an important player. The top four wouldn’t be the same without his strong skating and ability to recover to break up plays with his long reach. He has taken the body more in the Spring. He’ll need to be steady against the Lightning for the Rangers to pass the test.

How does the Rangers’ top four compare to the Lightning? I’d say it’s about even. If you like smooth skating, offense and skill, both Fox and Hedman provide that. They anchor each defense. Fox is a bit better now on offense as his 18 points (5-13-18) suggest. Hedman is more of a physical force due to his size.

If there’s an edge, it’s Cooper having former Ranger McDonagh to draw the big match-ups. He is superb at five-on-five and on the penalty kill. You want to talk about a beloved former player. That’s Mac. I enjoy watching him play. Just not when he’s going up against our team. He’ll see plenty of Zibanejad and Kreider.

I would expect Hedman and Cernak to be matched up against Panarin. McDonagh pairs up with Zach Bogosian. A solid veteran who is strictly used at even strength for checking assignments. Cooper prefers to use Sergachev on the third pair to balance out the blue line.

In terms of third pairs, we know about Justin Braun and Braden Schneider. Braun gets around 11 to 12 minutes while Schneider sees less. It’s a good thing Chris Drury sent a third round pick to the Flyers for Braun. Patrik Nemeth should never see the light of day again. Braun is more of a stabilizing influence which has helped Schneider, who will pick his spots to step into opponents. He’s the better skater whose future is bright.

While Gallant leans heavily on the top four, Cooper is similar with one exception. By having his third good skating left defenseman in Sergachev play third pair, it allows him to have three skating defensemen who can log over 20 minutes. He pairs up with Cal Foote. A solid skater who can step up. At times, Cooper will play Sergachev more in search of better skating. Even though I feel he can be attacked, Sergachev adds a nice wrinkle. If he opts for seven D and 11 forwards, it’ll be Jan Rutta. That is an alignment Cooper used without Point versus Florida.

How do the lineups look on paper? I’m going to assume Hagel will be ready for tonight.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING LINES

Stamkos-Cirelli-Kucherov

Palat-Paul-Killorn

Hagel-Colton-Perry

Maroon-Bellemare-Nash

Hedman-Cernak

McDonagh-Bogosian

Sergachev-Foote

Rutta

Vasilevskiy

NEW YORK RANGERS LINES

Kreider-Zibanejad-Vatrano

Panarin-Strome-Copp

Lafreniere-Chytil-Kakko

Motte-Goodrow-Reaves

Lindgren-Fox

Miller-Trouba

Braun-Schneider

Shesterkin

Having outlined what the projected lineups will likely be with Cooper probably opting for the 11 forwards/7 defensemen alignment without Point, what does it come down to?

Obviously, the goaltending is a huge key. This is a great match-up. The proven winner in Vasilevskiy, whose got the hardware and accomplishments to one day reach the Hockey Hall Of Fame. He is challenged by the new face in Shesterkin, who has already established himself as an elite goalie that can steal games. Goals should be hard to come by.

Personally, I’ll be intrigued by seeing how Zibanejad does against Stamkos. I have so much respect for Stamkos. It’s great to see him back in form after some tough injuries that sidetracked him. Zibanejad has been splendid so far. His 18 points and clutch goals have led the Rangers’ offense.

Fox and Hedman are two of the game’s best at their position. Hedman is a lot like Vasilevskiy in that he’s established. Fox is the new kid on the block who’s been superb offensively. His overall game was better against the Canes. Plus you have the Doberman’s in Lindgren/Trouba and McDonagh/Cernak.

Where it might tilt in favor of the Bolts is the dynamic Kucherov, whose game is made for the playoffs. He’s been amazing for his postseason career. At over a point-per-game, Playoff Kuch makes it happen. He doesn’t shy away from physicality and has that tenacity.

This series is where Panarin must step up. He can’t be average. That means stronger on the puck, less giveaways and better compete. Regardless of the upper-body injury, he has to show a willingness to make plays by being more instinctive. That means not hesitating. Shoot the puck if it’s there and make crisp passes. Smarter decisions.

They can get more from the Panarin line in this match-up. Especially with Copp performing well. Strome has quietly been effective at getting shots and fishing for loose change in front. But Panarin makes that line go. It’s up to the Bread Man to deliver.

The wildcard remains the Chytil line. Flanked by the very effective Lafreniere, whose strength on the boards and ability to make plays with loose pucks, they have been a good line on the forecheck. Kakko is the player who must be visible. He picked up an assist on a Chytil put away the other night and came close to scoring. Here’s hoping that bodes well.

I’ve highlighted Colton for the Lightning. A young player who can finish. Perry also is good in front of the net where he’ll be looking for deflections and rebounds. That’s what makes him a former MVP. Killorn has been relatively quiet. But Palat has picked it up. A good skater who has speed, he shouldn’t be underestimated. Neither should Paul, whose checking and versatility has come in handy since Point went down.

The Rangers could have an edge with the combo of Motte and Goodrow, who both play the game with lots of grit. It’ll be interesting seeing Goodrow face his former team. Don’t forget how valuable he is on the penalty kill. He knows their tendencies. He will also need to be better on face-offs than that 3-for-20 in Game Seven. Goody is better than that.

Face-offs remain an area of importance. We know the Rangers aren’t good at winning them. Don’t lose the zone draws cleanly. Tampa can run set plays. It’ll be up to Zibanejad and Goodrow to win their fair share.

How much will having home ice matter? I don’t put much stock in it. Not unless there’s a deciding Game Seven. We also must remember who the opponent is. It’s the Lightning. Even if it goes seven at The Garden, there’s no guarantee here. I am not gonna bring up the last one versus this team. What a nightmare.

Of course, having the home crowd can help lift the team up in these games. They’re all big now. One thing I’d suggest is not falling behind. Get a lead. They can’t lose the first two games. It would be nice to see them win Game One and lead a series for a change.

The team that executes better at five-on-five and on special teams will prevail. It also will come down to which side can get traffic on the goalies. That means getting greasy goals. Whether on tips, deflections or rebounds, that will really matter.

Discipline. That can’t be stressed enough. Both teams boast weapons on the power play. Each penalty kill is capable. You don’t want to chance it.

Hustle plays. This is where the grit factor comes in. Finishing checks. Winning the puck battles. Forechecking. Key defensive plays like coming back to break up scoring chances and blocking shots. The stuff we don’t always see on the score sheet. That can decide these games.

I feel like the intangibles is even. We know what the Lightning are trying to do. They’re out to prove they can make history. Their experience and hunger is unquestioned. The Rangers have the look of a team that doesn’t go away. Five for five in elimination games. They never quit. They’re like Rocky. I loved that Kreider quote about them being like cockroaches. That’s who they are under Gallant.

As for coaching, I feel like you have to give the edge to Cooper. He’s a great coach. Look how he was able to adjust against the Leafs and what they did to the Panthers. He’s a winner who’s had success everywhere. Gallant is no slouch. He took the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first year. He’s been successful and probably learned a lot after Vegas mistakenly fired him. He has the right temperament for this team. They take on his personality.

Normally, I do these previews differently with breakdowns and a series prediction. I’m going to be honest. I am not up to picking a winner. Maybe I don’t want to jinx it. I do feel the Rangers have a chance against the Lightning. But I would rather just enjoy the series without making a pick.

I know how that sounds. It’s very unlike me. No bravado. I don’t know who will win. But I think it’ll be a great series. Whatever happens, it’s been a heckuva ride. Let’s enjoy these games. Nobody had the Blueshirts here. It was possible. But the way they did it is pretty cool.

Ric Flair always says, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.

Here’s their chance. Defeat the champs and it could be a very memorable June. Let’s Go!!!

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Rangers storm past Hurricanes 6-2 in stunning conclusion to win series, Advance to Conference Finals showdown with Lightning, Kreider delivers in elimination game, Fox sets record, Shesterkin 37 saves to set up match-up versus Vasilevskiy

They did it. The New York Rangers are going to the Conference Finals. They did it in convincing fashion by going into Raleigh and defeating the Hurricanes 6-2 to take a deciding Game Seven in stunning fashion at PNC Arena.

There’s so much to digest here. It’s unbelievable how resilient this team is. They really never quit. It’s like the #NoQuitInNY hash tag has become their rallying cry. To come back and beat the Hurricanes in enemy territory, improving to 5-0 in elimination games is remarkable.

I don’t have the words. The Rangers are truly a special T-E-A-M. That’s why they’re still playing. For the first time in seven long years, they will play in the Eastern Conference Final. Ironically, they’ll meet the same opponent. The two-time defending champion Lightning with the next round starting on Wednesday night at MSG.

It’s a huge accomplishment. No doubt about it. Anyone who had this team winning two tough series in comeback fashion to take on the Stanley Cup champs is a liar or straight tripping. This is so exciting because it’s so unexpected. I can’t believe it. Wow. I’m speechless.

Considering how the second round series played out, most of us couldn’t have predicted a 6-2 road win over a tough Hurricanes’ team that entered a perfect 7-0 on home ice. The fact that they doubled up their output from Games One, Two and Five, demonstrates how strong this group of Blueshirts are. Their tremendous character and never say die attitude has gotten them this far.

Now, it’s a best-of-seven series versus the Lightning in the Conference Finals. It will pit Igor Shesterkin against Andrei Vasilevskiy. The game’s two best goalies will face off. Of course, it’s a lot bigger than that storyline. It’s the young upstarts going up against the battle tested champs. A dream for ESPN.

As for the Hurricanes, they were done in by undisciplined penalties and poor special teams. While Shesterkin tipped it in favor of the Rangers the final two games due to Antti Raanta having a bad Game Six and then leaving tonight’s deciding game with a lower-body injury at two goals down, it really was the Rangers’ superior power play and better penalty kill that determined the winner.

In the end, all the stats in the world didn’t help the Canes. They’d never lost a series while leading three games to two. They had won their last six Game Seven’s. That’s all gone. Home ice didn’t matter on Memorial Day in Raleigh, North Carolina.

All that mattered was that the Rangers were better when it mattered most. They played a superb game to take the series. Buoyed by a pair of power play goals from Adam Fox and Chris Kreider, they got out to a two-goal lead and never trailed. A huge key to winning in that building.

The Hurricanes are a much better team when they’re ahead. They play a different style at home. However, they were unable to get established due to minors on Sebastian Aho and a too many men on the ice penalty that really was due to a clean, hard hit by Jacob Trouba on Seth Jarvis. It loomed large.

Eight minutes into the game, both Fox and Kreider converted on the power play to put the Blueshirts up by two. The biggest save Shesterkin made came on Teuvo Teravainen when he robbed him on a one-timer following the Kreider goal. That was a momentum killer for the Canes, who pushed hard after falling behind.

Shesterkin made 16 of his 37 saves in a hectic first period. The play was wide open. It was the best offense the Canes mustered all game. They really generated some good scoring chances. But a locked in Igor didn’t cooperate.

As the game went on, it was the Rangers who picked up their play at five-on-five. Even though they were out-attempted by a considerable margin (82-46), they weren’t outshot or out-chanced by much. In the final two periods, the shots were 23-20 Hurricanes. Hardly the shooting gallery we’d grown accustomed to in that loud arena.

Ryan Strome would add a key goal late in the second. His first of the series beat rookie Pyotr Kochetkov, who replaced an injured Raanta with less than five minutes left in the period. A tough situation to come into for a young netminder.

Kreider would add his second of the game when he powered past Jaccob Slavin to go backhand deke on Kochetkov less than four minutes into the third. That made it 4-0.

After Vincent Trocheck redirected a Tony DeAngelo shot for only the second Hurricanes’ power play goal after a rare Shesterkin miscue, Filip Chytil erased any doubt when he got behind the Canes and beat Kochetkov five-hole, answering back 40 seconds later for a 5-1 lead.

Following a Max Domi goal that cut it to three with 3:47 left, Andrew Copp scored into a vacated net less than a minute later to conclude the scoring.

Mika Zibanejad had three assists in the victory. It was very quiet. But the top center was the best forward in the series. He finished with eight points (4-4-8) over the last five games to outplay Aho, who wasn’t as consistent.

With a goal and assist, Fox also concluded the series with eight points (2-6-8) to match Zibanejad. His 10 points are an NHL record by a defenseman in elimination games. Pretty special.

In stopping 37 of 39 shots, Shesterkin finished the seven-game series by allowing 12 goals on 234 shots. That translates to a .949 save percentage. He posted a 1.72 GAA. Tremendous numbers. He really delivered when it counted. Similar to the first round against the Pens after going through a rough patch.

How about Chytil? All he did was score four goals. That included the pair he had in the Game Six win. He added another big one for insurance to help wrap it up. After Zibanejad, it was Chytil who notched four goals against Carolina.

Don’t overlook the contributions from Tyler Motte and Barclay Goodrow. Both gritty forwards were instrumental in helping the team come back from a 3-2 deficit. Their attention to detail at both five-on-five and on the penalty kill were monumental. Getting Goodrow back for the final two games provided a big lift. Similar to what Motte brought when he returned against Pittsburgh.

That grit and intangibles matter at this time of year. Nobody defines it more than Ryan Lindgren. The warrior himself, who kept coming back from the locker room including at one point last night, he personifies what this team is all about. Enough cannot be said about the gamer he is. Battling through whatever is ailing him to provide great leadership and defense on the top pair.

They’re also here due to how Gerard Gallant has handled things. He never panics. Not when they were in a 3-1 hole in Round One. Not in what had been a home ice series until Monday night. He continues to push the right buttons. His calm demeanor has been a perfect fit for this team. Now, he will coach against close friend Jon Cooper in the next round.

I already covered a lot. It had to be done that way. That’s how meaningful it is for the never say die Blueshirts to be back in the Final Four still vying for the Cup.

Let’s get into how Game Seven went. A memorable night for the franchise, who delivered a loud message to the rest of the league. They’re back.

One of the coolest things about this game is my best friend took his son. It was a graduation present. A special shout out to Tim for being such a great Dad. I know his son Mikey will never forget it. He loves the Rangers. Maybe he was the good luck charm. Look at their seats.

At the start, Gallant had Goodrow between Motte and Ryan Reaves with K’Andre Miller and Trouba. Rod Brind’Amour countered with his fourth line of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Max Domi, Jordan Martinook with the top pair of Slavin and DeAngelo.

With the crowd which included enough Ranger fans who made the trip making plenty of noise following the national anthem on Memorial Day, it was the Hurricanes who got the game’s first two shots. Shesterkin stopped Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei from distance.

One thing that was evident early was how committed the Rangers were defensively. Both Lindgren and Braden Schneider blocked shots. For the game, they dominated that category making 25 compared to the Canes’ eight. Trouba led all skaters with five.

On an early shift from the second line, Aho hooked into Copp to put the Rangers on an early power play. This was a bad penalty. It would prove costly.

The perplexing part was how much the top unit struggled. The Canes were solid for most of the penalty kill. But on a shift change by Gallant, the second unit that also had Zibanejad and Lindgren back out as it was winding down delivered an early blow.

On a good play in the neutral zone by Copp, he led Alexis Lafreniere into the Canes’ zone. Able to move in and slide a good back pass between the skates of Marty Necas, that allowed Fox to jump in and fire a wrist shot through traffic that beat Raanta top shelf with two seconds remaining on the power play.

Lafreniere made a smart play. He drew Necas to him knowing Fox was coming in behind. The back pass gave Fox a clear lane to beat a screened Raanta for the all important first goal at 3:40.

On the next shift, Trouba was sent off for high-sticking Kotkaniemi. It was already a critical juncture not even five minutes into the game.

Despite some good zone time, the Canes simply couldn’t score. They came close. After trying for some deflections, DeAngelo passed across for a Jarvis shot that hit the goalpost. That close to a tie game. Only one shot reached Shesterkin. A long DeAngelo try that he handled. It was a big kill.

The big Trouba hit came a couple of shifts later. On a play where the Hurricanes entered the Rangers zone, he stepped up on Jarvis after the rookie made a pass. Trouba caught him with a clean shoulder a bit high and to the side. There was a little head contact. Here’s how the play looked.

Obviously, this was a tough hit. The kind Trouba delivers. Unfortunately, Jarvis went down. With him struggling to make it back to the Canes’ bench, out came another player too early. That resulted in a bench minor. A pivotal part of the game.

On their second power play, they didn’t waste any time. Off a set play, Fox got the puck across for a Zibanejad one-timer that really was a pass right for an easy Kreider tip-in with nobody on him for a power play goal at 8:00.

The Canes were overly aggressive up top. When Skjei vacated the front, it left Kreider wide open for his specialty. A tip home past Raanta for his second of the series to put the Blueshirts up by two.

With the Hurricanes crowd getting antsy, they nearly got it back to pull within one. On a good Aho rush, he had Teravainen all set up. But a quick reacting Shesterkin got across the net to make the clutch pad save to rob Teravainen of a sure goal six seconds following Kreider’s goal.

He would also deny Kotkaniemi on a backhand in close. He was locked in. Ray Ferraro noticed it on ESPN. He just looked very calm in net. Exactly what you want to see from a great goalie in such a big game.

With the Rangers exiting the zone, Reaves got too aggressive by delivering a late hit on DeAngelo to go for interference. It put the Canes back on the man-advantage.

Shesterkin’s toughest save came on a weird Aho deflection where he got into the right position to handle it. The other two shots from DeAngelo and Necas were from way out without enough traffic.

After some strong work from Goodrow and Copp, it was back to even strength. Zibanejad nearly had Panarin for a three-goal lead. But Raanta got across to make a great save to deny him. He actually kept his team in it.

Raanta would also deny a Strome wraparound and Copp point blank on another strong shift from the Panarin line. He was again more effective throughout. Panarin did a better job of forechecking and also came back defensively.

Shesterkin continued to look steady. He handled a Necas shot and stayed with Andrei Svechnikov, who was shutdown. He only had one goal. Aho was also denied by Igor, who wasn’t letting anything in.

Trouba made two good defensive plays by breaking up Canes’ centering passes with a man wide open. He might’ve saved a goal. Before the first concluded, Raanta made a good stop on Kreider to keep it at 2-0.

While the stats certainly pointed to the Hurricanes, who had 31 attempts, the Rangers hung in there by blocking nine shots and cashing in on their two power plays. It wasn’t like they were outshot severely. But they definitely needed to tighten it up.

Not surprisingly, Jarvis was unable to return following the Trouba hit. Emily Kaplan provided the update before the second period began. You hate to see a player get hurt. Especially a promising kid like Jarvis, who’ll be a star.

Following a good cycle down low by Zibanejad, Kreider and Frank Vatrano, Nino Niederreiter was able to come out and get an opportunity in transition. His tricky backhand was shutdown by Shesterkin, who closed up the five-hole to get a whistle.

Following a bad turnover by Lafreniere at the Carolina blue line, Chytil picked him up defensively. Following some attack time by the Hurricanes, Chytil came out with the puck and skated in to get a backhand on Raanta that he handled. It was a very good play by the budding center.

The Rangers would go back on the power play due to a lazy Svechnikov trip on Goodrow. That came after the refs missed a Lafreniere high stick that caught Brendan Smith earlier.

It didn’t matter. The third man-advantage was putrid. They were very conservative. Part of it was the Hurricanes, who showed more urgency to kill the penalty. They didn’t allow any setup time or shots. Even without doing anything, the Rangers led in shots 6-2. A huge difference from the first period.

Vatrano received a hooking minor on Jesper Fast with just under 13 minutes to go. It was another chance for the Canes to get back in it. Instead, they only had one long shot from DeAngelo. Goodrow made two key blocks to help kill the penalty. What a gamer.

Also of note, Lindgren took a tough ride into the boards by Niederreiter. That came as they got Vatrano for the one penalty. Wes McCauley explained to Lindgren, who was able to miraculously return after missing a few minutes that the puck was there. It could’ve been boarding. But it wasn’t.

When he was in the locker room, Gallant opted to pair up Schneider with Trouba. Miller again worked with Fox like in the first round when Lindgren missed time. They were fine. Seeing Lindgren come back was unbelievable. The man is so tough. He really is Dan Girardi reincarnated.

Despite a few more Canes’ shots, nothing threatened Shesterkin, who also had a more committed defense. They laid out to block shots and force Carolina wide. That was a big story.

A key point happened late in the period. After Raanta tried to sprawl across to deny Zibanejad, whose shot was blocked, he went down. Unfortunately, he landed awkwardly after pushing off. It didn’t look good. He would exit with 4:23 left. It sucked to see him limp off.

That forced Kochetkov into action. He had relieved Raanta in Game Six. But this was completely different. He had to come in following an injury. Once he replaced Raanta, the Canes’ chances of winning took a dip.

On a two-on-one rush, Strome was all set up. But he somehow shot the puck back into Kochetkov, who made a good pad save. Then, Aho came up ice and nearly had Teravainen for a goal. But he missed completely. That miss really hurt the Hurricanes.

With the Carolina forwards changing, a DeAngelo pinch led to Miller trapping him. Panarin quickly got the puck up for Strome on another two-on-one. This time, he didn’t miss. He was able to beat Kochetkov short side by changing the angle for a three-goal lead with 3:41 left. Ferraro noticed how Strome changed the angle to fool Kochetkov. It was a good shot.

Urged on by the Ranger fans who were cheering in the crowd, they nearly made it 4-0. After a couple of saves from Shesterkin, Lafreniere made a power move towards the net, but had his backhand go wide. It would’ve been a nice goal had he pulled it off. He was really good in this game.

At the end of two periods, the Rangers were in control up 3-0. They played a much more complete second by competing in all facets. The Canes didn’t have many quality chances. Although the shots favored them 12-9, it was much more evenly played. The Blueshirts boxed out and cleared the net front.

As we already knew when he went down, Raanta was done for the night. Kochetkov would go the rest of the way. I too have a soft spot for Raanta, who’s as nice a player as there is. A very classy goalie, who once served as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup. It sucks that he got hurt.

With the Hurricanes trailing by three entering the third period, I knew they’d make an early push. Seeing Martinook interviewed between periods by Kaplan told the story. He said all the right things. But you could see the shock on his face.

Funny enough, it was Martinook who got a great early chance 30 seconds into the third. But Shesterkin calmly handled his shot from the slot with ease. But the Rangers settled down following the inauspicious start to the period.

On another DeAngelo pinch, Zibanejad and Vatrano worked the puck out for Kreider. Once he received the puck, he turned on the afterburners. Able to gain a step on Slavin, who tried as hard as he could, Kreider shielded his body and then made a great power move for a beautiful backhand finish past Kochetkov.

What a goal. This was vintage Kreider. He was able to use his size and speed to deny Slavin, who’s a good defenseman. Then buried the chance to make it 4-0 with 16:01 remaining. He was pumped. So were the Ranger contingent who made more noise in the third.

Kreider now ranks second all-time with 15 goals in elimination games. Only former legend Mark Messier has more. He had 16 over his brilliant Hall Of Fame career that saw him win six Cups including the last one as a Ranger in ’94. That’s the only time I’ll reference that.

They could’ve gone up five. A strong shift from the third line led to Kaapo Kakko and Chytil getting shots on Kochetkov, who turned them away. Since being reunited, that line has been very good. Gallant should keep them intact for Tampa.

On a failed clearing attempt, Trouba sent the puck out of play for a delay of game minor. On a rare miscue by Shesterkin, the Canes were denied by a diving Fox. But they stuck with it to break the shutout. DeAngelo was able to take an Aho pass and take a shot that Trocheck deflected in for only the Canes’ second power play goal of the series. It really let them down.

In the MSG postgame, Lundqvist noted that the Hurricanes never really changed their strategy on the five-on-four. He felt they were too predictable and weren’t shooting to score. They looked for a lot of tips in front and misdirection plays. Very deliberate too. Not enough movement.

Now down by three again with still 11:49 left, the Canes still had a pulse. But a bad turnover in their end wound up finishing them off. A Kakko takeaway on a Skjei turnover allowed him to push the back for a quick Chytil shot through the wickets on Kochetkov to restore a four-goal lead only 40 seconds later.

A pumped up Lafreniere gave Chytil a huge hug. You could see how much emotion there was. Those kids have great chemistry. It was nice to see Kakko hit the score sheet. He also nearly had a goal. A confidence boost that he played well.

As time wound down, you could hear the “Ig-or, Ig-or” and “Let’s Go Rangers,” chants pick up. For the Hurricanes fans who stayed, they still supported their team despite being out of the game. Had it been MSG in that situation, it would’ve been silent.

With under four minutes left, Kotkaniemi and Martinook set up Max Domi to cut the deficit to three with 3:47 remaining. That allowed them to eventually pull Kochetkov for a six-on-five.

Following a Shesterkin stop on Teravainen, who probably felt cursed given all the scoring chances he had, Goodrow and Zibanejad worked the puck out for Copp, who deposited it into the open net with 2:52 left.

The end was really a coronation. Gallant opted to rest his top guns. They were all smiles on the bench. As time wound down, there was plenty of celebrating while a cool Gallant made his way on the ice to greet a gracious Brind’Amour.

After they congratulated Igor, the traditional handshakes started. ESPN was sure to pick up DeAngelo who gave hugs to Kreider, Zibanejad, Fox and close friend Strome. Despite the shenanigans during a hard fought series, he showed class. More than you can say for some fans.

The only thing that didn’t make sense was ESPN opting not to show DeAngelo and Alex Georgiev. We all know the story. Maybe they didn’t feel it was necessary. I would imagine it wasn’t all warm and fuzzy between them. But I saw what I needed to see from DeAngelo, who had a series to forget along with partner Slavin.

ESPN also made sure to show the well respected Smith, who had some nice words for his former teammates. I have a lot of admiration for him. He took Miller and Kakko under his wing and was a great teammate. He plays that same role for the Hurricanes. Stick taps.

It definitely was eerie seeing a few of our former players greet the current Rangers. I felt bad for Raanta and Derek Stepan, who didn’t play in the series. Anyone who knows me knows I love Stepan. I hope he catches on elsewhere in a checking role.

It’s incredible to see this team have this kind of success. Wow. It’s unbelievable that they’re going to meet the Lightning for a chance at the Stanley Cup Finals. I’m so excited.

The Rangers and Lightning will begin tomorrow night at The Garden. Games 1 and 2 are both at 8 PM. Here’s the schedule.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL

Rangers vs Lightning

Wednesday, June 1 Lightning vs Rangers 8 PM ESPN

Friday, 6/3 Lightning vs Rangers 8 PM ESPN

Sunday, 6/5 Rangers at Lightning 3 PM ESPN

Tuesday, 6/7 Rangers at Lightning 8 PM ESPN

*Thursday, 6/9 Lightning at Rangers 8 PM ESPN

*Saturday, 6/11 Rangers at Lightning 8 PM ESPN

*Tuesday, 6/14 Lightning at Rangers 8 PM ESPN

*if necessary

It’ll be quite a challenge. Even if the Bolts don’t have Brayden Point, they boast Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Vasilevskiy, Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn and old friend Ryan McDonagh. They’re a complete team.

You can’t put them on the power play. Kucherov is one of the most lethal setting things up from the right circle. Stamkos has a lethal one-timer in Ovi’s office. Hedman can shoot or pass from the point. They can use Corey Perry in the Point role. Cirelli can crash the net and retrieve pucks while Alex Killorn is capable. Ross Colton is the player to watch. He’s scored some big goals.

There are a lot of variables. McDonagh draws the checking assignments. He is very good at five-on-five and on the penalty kill. You can bet he’ll see a lot of Kreider and Zibanejad.

I’ll have a lot more on the challenge the Lightning present including in net. It’s going to be interesting. Plus Goodrow faces his former team. Good stuff.

Let’s enjoy what this team has accomplished. They’ve given us more than we ever could have asked for. Now, it’s a series against the best. A shot at the champs. I have friends on the other side. But now it’s war. Haha.

I could easily write a few more paragraphs. That’s how stoked I am. Congratulations to the Rangers! Let’s Go!!!!!

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A win away from the Conference Finals, Rangers must solve Hurricanes’ home dominance to advance

On a significant day in our history where we honor those men and women who sacrificed so much for the country, the Rangers look to make some history of their own tonight when they play the Hurricanes in a deciding Game Seven.

It won’t be easy. The Hurricanes have dominated on home ice this postseason. They enter seventh game on Memorial Day a perfect 7-0 at PNC Arena in Raleigh. Despite their road woes that have seen them lose all six games including three ro the Blueshirts, they’re expected to win tonight’s game. At least if you go by the odds makers.

It’s understandable why the Rangers enter this big game as the underdog. Like the Bruins in the first round, they haven’t been able to solve the Hurricanes in that loud building. However, they have one more chance to win on the road in a tough environment. If they can, they advance to their first Conference Finals since 2015 where a familiar opponent awaits.

As nice as it would be to break down a potential Eastern Conference Final against the two-time defending champion Lightning, the reality is they must play their best game of the second round series to pull it off. If they do, only then can we get excited for a showdown.

There are some interesting statistics that the Rangers must stare down to win Game Seven at Carolina. In their history, the Hurricanes have never lost a deciding Game Seven. They’re 6-0. They also have never blown a three games to two lead to lose a series. They’re a perfect nine for nine.

Recent history has treated the Rangers well. In the first round, they got off the mat to come back from a 3-1 deficit to pull out a hard fought series win over the Penguins. They rallied to take Game Seven on Artemi Panarin’s power play goal in overtime. They enter tonight’s seventh game having gone 7-1 in their last eight Game Seven’s.

Something has to give. While Chris Kreider is the lone holdover from most of that recent success with now retired, turned MSG analyst Henrik Lundqvist in the studio, this is a great opportunity for the franchise. Especially in what’s their first Stanley Cup Playoffs in five years.

It’s already been a great season. They surprised many by winning 52 games and finishing second in the Metropolitan Division with 110 points. Six behind the Hurricanes, who earned home ice by defeating the Rangers in the final week of the regular season. They’ve been able to use it to their advantage to get to this point.

What happens at 8 PM tonight when the deciding game begins on ESPN? That remains to be seen. As far as all the stats I mentioned above, you can throw it all out. It’ll be decided on the ice.

The Rangers know just how tough the Hurricanes are in Raleigh. They could’ve won Game One. But weren’t able to protect a one-goal lead after two dominant periods. Filip Chytil’s goal didn’t stand up. They backed off in the third and got burned by Sebastian Aho with 2:23 left in regulation. Then Ian Cole in sudden death.

Even though they played the Canes tough in Game Two, a critical mistake led to Brendan Smith scoring a shorthanded goal during the second period. Carolina shutdown the Rangers in the third, getting a last second empty netter to prevail 2-0.

You can make the argument that they were right there in the first two games. But they only scored one goal. After evening the series with convincing wins back at MSG, they were no match for Carolina in an uncompetitive 3-1 loss in Game Five. The score was misleading. It was brutal.

But in a series that hasn’t had any momentum, they responded in true never say die fashion by defeating the Hurricanes 5-2 to take Game Six at The Garden. A game where Barclay Goodrow returned from a serious ankle injury that sidelined him for over three weeks. He won seven of fourteen face-offs and was a key factor on three successful penalty kills.

Along with a pair of second period goals from Chytil, goals from Tyler Motte, Mika Zibanejad and Panarin, they responded the right way.

It isn’t possible without Igor Shesterkin, whose brilliance in stopping all 15 shots in the first period, made the difference. He was at his best making several tremendous saves en route to 37 to help the Blueshirts stave off elimination for the fourth time. He also became just the fifth goalie to record two assists in a playoff game, and even took a penalty late in the second that his teammates bailed him out on.

The 26-year old Russia Czar is their best player. After some struggles in the first round, he’s allowed 10 goals on 195 shots (.949 save percentage) versus Carolina. Even though he’s expected to win his first Vezina and finish third for the Hart behind Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, a win tonight would be remarkable.

It’s his first postseason. Not even Lundqvist reached this point. It took him until age 30 to carry the Black and Blueshirts to the Conference Finals in 2012. That playoffs, he won three elimination games including a road Game Six at Ottawa and two Game Seven’s in the first two rounds.

What Shesterkin is looking to do is significant. In order for that to happen, he’ll need plenty of help tonight. There’s no question that the Rangers haven’t played their best game yet in this series. Game Four is the one that stands out. However, it’s about bringing their A game on the road in a hostile environment later tonight.

Throughout the series, I’ve referenced the match-ups. Rod Brind’Amour has dictated them by matching the Jordan Staal line against the Zibanejad line. In the Rangers’ three home victories, Gerard Gallant countered by having Zibanejad out against Aho. The chess match should be interesting to watch. It’s Game Seven. If he has to change on the fly or adjust in game, Gallant must. Leave nothing to chance.

Zibanejad has come on by scoring goals in four straight games. Along with Chytil, they’ve combined for seven of the Rangers’ fourteen goals. More will be needed from Kreider, who’s been limited to a goal and assist. This is the kind of big game he must deliver in.

For most of this round, offense has been hard to find for Panarin. Playing banged up through upper-body injuries, he’s found it tough sledding against the stingy Canes’ defense. But he looked better in Game Six by getting in on the forecheck and creating some good scoring chances for Andrew Copp. It’s imperative that Panarin approaches this one similarly. He can’t be afraid to shoot and must avoid turnovers.

Adam Fox has six points in the series to lead all players. The smooth skating defenseman can find offense due to his uncanny ability to find open teammates and keep pucks in at the point. Obviously, he must be a factor. Don’t get caught pinching either. Both Fox and Jacob Trouba, who had a much better game the other night, must limit mistakes.

If there’s been one forward who’s brought a consistent work ethic at five-on-five, it’s Alexis Lafreniere. The 20-year old former top pick has been very involved physically. He has finished checks and gotten in on the forecheck with Chytil and Kaapo Kakko to create offense. Although he only has two helpers in the series, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Lafreniere played a part in a Game Seven upset win. His style is perfectly suited for the playoff grind.

Could this be the swan song for Ryan Strome as a Blueshirt? Stolen from Edmonton by former GM Jeff Gorton for Ryan Spooner, he’s been a good player. His unselfish nature has meshed well with Panarin. He also is always available to the media and makes good observations about what they need to do. With only two assists, you know he’ll want to contribute. He’s most effective when he goes to the net.

What about Frank Vatrano and Motte? Both have been solid. Vatrano had a better first round. He did score a power play goal and register an assist in a home win. That’s been it. A player with a shoot first mentality, Vatrano must be involved by utilizing his skating to get open.

As for Motte, he’s a glue guy who doesn’t always show up on the score sheet. It’s his tenacity and grit that have won over fans. Much like Goodrow, he brings a lot to the table. A good defensive forward who excels on the penalty kill, Motte uses his speed and instincts well. They probably aren’t in this round without him.

Ryan Reaves continues to bring the energy needed before and during games. A good locker room guy who keeps things loose with his lineup introductions and “Release Us Igor” pump up prior to coming out. he’s a likable teammate who plays with that same passion during each shift. The hitting must be prominent on the forecheck. Forecheck being the operative word.

If they want to win this game, it’s important to get off to a strong start. That means winning enough face-offs, battles and getting pucks in. They must be able to forecheck the Canes. Chip pucks behind their aggressive defense to generate odd-man rushes. Play disciplined. Defend better.

Getting a lead is essential. You can’t play the Hurricanes in that arena from behind. They really make it hard due to their fans and the style they play. Expect them to push early. The Rangers must withstand the pressure by making crisp passes and not turning over pucks. They will have to counter.

Gallant leans heavily on the top four defensemen. Ryan Lindgren continues to be their most consistent defensively. Despite whatever is ailing him, he’s shown a lot of heart. He covers for Fox a lot. They must be steady.

That also goes double for K’Andre Miller and Trouba. They draw the checking assignment against Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Seth Jarvis. They must be strong on the walls and be able to have clean breakouts. Make smart reads. Miller can skate it out when there’s room and jump in. Trouba can take the body.

The Rangers’ structure has to be textbook. This can’t turn into a fire drill where Igor is facing a shooting gallery. Keep the Canes outside and box out. They’ll be driving the net a lot in search of deflections and rebounds. The defense must not panic. They’ll need help from the forwards.

There can’t be any passengers. In Game Six, both Justin Braun and Braden Schneider played well. Gallant gave them more shifts than he has on the road. Obviously, Brind’Amour will look to get favorable match-ups by having his first or second line on with Jaccob Slavin and Tony DeAngelo. Up to this point, the Rangers have done a good job limiting DeAngelo to one assist and keeping Slavin without a point.

While most of the focus is on the Canes’ top line, don’t forget about Vincent Trocheck, Andrei Svechnikov and Marty Necas. Even though they only have three goals in the series, they’ve gotten a lot of good looks. The Rangers must minimize their chances. Trocheck has been good on the wall and Svechnikov has missed the net several times.

You know Zibanejad, Kreider and Vatrano will see Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Jesper Fast, Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce often. They can’t be on the defensive in this game. That means Zibanejad must win key draws and they have to compete harder on pucks. Zibanejad is the best forward they have with Kreider their top finisher. They must be factors.

In terms of the goalies, we know Shesterkin has the edge over Antti Raanta, who’s expected to start Game Seven. He is coming off a bad game where the Rangers chased him for three goals in a shade over a period. Undoubtedly, they need to test Raanta early. He’s bound to be nervous. Take shots. Go for rebounds. Get players to the net.

Special Teams. It has meant plenty in this series. When the power play is right, that increases their chances of winning. No sloppy passes that cause Canes’ shorthanded rushes. They’ve already been burned twice in that building.

No bad penalties. Just because Carolina has only one power play goal doesn’t mean they can’t connect. Their power play got enough looks the other night. It was Shesterkin who made the big saves in the first period to deny Teravainen and DeAngelo. If they are on the kill, stay aggressive by crowding DeAngelo. It’s worked in this series. He’s been frustrated. Take away Teravainen and Aho. Keep an eye on Jarvis and Svechnikov.

There are so many variables when it comes to these deciding seventh games. I’ve examined them all. If there’s one thing you hops for, it’s that Shesterkin is the best player on the ice. He has the capability to steal this game. They must give him help to win.

Whatever happens, it’s been a fun season. Who would’ve ever believed this team would be playing for a chance at the Lightning? I’ll take it. If they leave it all out there, no matter what the result is, I’ll be proud.

#LGR

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It’s Going Seven! Never Say Die Rangers take Game Six over Hurricanes 5-2 to force Game Seven, Chytil scores twice, Goodrow inspires in return, Raanta chased

There will be a Game Seven. It’ll take place on Memorial Day in Raleigh. The never say die Rangers forced the deciding seventh game by delivering a clutch 5-2 win in Game Six over the Hurricanes at MSG.

The true character again came through. For the fourth time this postseason, the resilient Blueshirts avoided elimination. They did it by getting a quick start thanks to goals from Tyler Motte and Mika Zibanejad.

Filip Chytil was the star of the night. He scored twice and was the best skater on either side. His goal on a two-on-one chased Antti Raanta for the first time in the series. He would later add a critical second tally on a great backhand past reliever Pyotr Kochetkov that restored a three-goal lead.

Not to be outdone was Igor Shesterkin. With his team in another do or die scenario at The Garden, all he did was make 37 saves on 39 shots including some big ones in the first period when it mattered. He also made NHL history by becoming only the fifth goalie to ever record two assists in a playoff game.

The Rangers also got an emotional lift from the surprising return of Barclay Goodrow. After blocking a shot in Game One against the Penguins, the battle tested Stanley Cup winner was back in the lineup despite suffering a broken ankle 25 days ago.

It was incredible how well he played. He replaced Kevin Rooney centering the checking line and adding valuable penalty killing. Goodrow also won seven of fourteen face-offs. He provided exactly the kind of energy and experience they needed.

In a sharp contrast from the mindless Game Five, Saturday was more wide open. That caused more chaos and a frenetic pace early. It led to some prime scoring chances for the Hurricanes, who had more jump than in Game Four.

That allowed Shesterkin to get into the game early. He made a few gigantic saves to keep the Canes off the scoreboard. None were bigger than the breakaway he stoned Sebastian Aho on. That save along with one on a Teuvo Teravainen rebound were  huge momentum swings. Motte eventually came down and beat a shaky Raanta through the wickets for the game’s first goal.

Before that goal by Motte, shots favored the Canes 7-2. Things changed following Motte’s second of the series. The Rangers would get the next six shots to turn it around. That included Zibanejad fooling Raanta by shooting from a bad angle on a rush to score for the fourth consecutive game.

The clutch stops from Shesterkin and the two goals Raanta gave up really set the tone. They would lead throughout and ride the hot goaltending of Igor to a three-goal victory to force a deciding Game Seven. That’ll take place at 8 PM on Memorial Day.

It’ll be compelling theater for ESPN. Even if some fans on both sides of the series don’t care for Sean McDonough. It’s a national broadcast. I don’t mind. Ray Ferraro is pretty good on color commentary while being between the benches. Despite what fans think, there is no bias.

In terms of the Rangers playing another Game Seven, they’re 7-1 over their last eight. The Hurricanes have never blown a three games to two lead. They’re a perfect 9-0 and have a great record in seventh games. Something has to give.

Hopefully, luck will be on the Rangers’ side. They have yet to win at PNC Arena. Carolina came back to take Game One in crushing fashion. They then shutout the Rangers in Game Two. Those were close. Game Five was not. It’s important for the players in the locker room to believe they can win. Approach it the right way. Play their best game. That’s what it’s going to take to advance.

When early reports had Goodrow taking warm-ups, that was a huge surprise. But when it was confirmed that Rooney wasnt on the ice, everyone knew Goodrow was back. It’s remarkable that he returned from a serious injury in less than a month.

Here were the lines for both sides:

Before the game even began, the “Ig-or, Ig-or, Ig-or,” chants were up from the crowd. They understood the importance of this game. It’s either win or go home. He definitely wasn’t ready to make summer reservations. Neither were his teammates.

At the start, Gerard Gallant had Goodrow between Motte and Ryan Reaves with K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba for the opening draw. Rod Brind’Amour countered with his big checking line anchored by Jordan Staal with Nino Niederreiter and Jesper Fast. Jaccob Slavin and Tony DeAngelo were on defense.

Following another great national anthem from John Brancy, who should become the permanent singer for the home games, Shesterkin turned away an early Staal bid on the opening shift.

After a good Justin Braun hit on Vincent Trocheck, a good cycle from the second line that included a more visible Artemi Panarin created a shot from Andrew Copp that Raanta fought off. Slavin batted the rebound away. That was a sign of nerves.

The Canes were very aggressive. They came out hitting and were able to carry the play. It led to Shesterkin making a couple of early stops. He would get tested shortly.

After Goodrow got a shot on Raanta, Aho got behind Ryan Lindgren for a breakaway. He made his move going to a forehand deke. But a calm Shesterkin slid over to make the big right pad save to cheers. He then turned away Teravainen’s backhand.

With the building in a frenzy from the early Shesterkin heroics, Motte took a loose puck, skated into the Carolina zone and used Skjei as a screen to sneak one through Raanta at 7:22. His shot went off Raanta’s pads and in for the lead.

That really got the fans going. It was obvious to anyone that Raanta was shaky. Even though Motte shot between Skjei’s legs, it was a bad goal. It wouldn’t be the only softy from Raanta.

Getting a boost from the goal, the Rangers carried the next few minutes. In fact, Copp nearly doubled up the lead. But his shot just missed. He would also get another shot on that Raanta handled.

Following a stoppage, the second line continued to pressure. Ryan Strome was denied in close by Raanta. On a close call, Adam Fox had some room on the short side with Raanta off his near post. But he just missed wide. He shook his head.

On a draw between Chytil and Trocheck, Alexis Lafreniere was high-sticked by Brendan Smith. That put the Rangers on the power play.

Following a face-off win and clear by the Canes, Shesterkin handed the puck to Fox. He then moved it up for Zibanejad. He then did the rest. Flying up ice, he gained the Canes’ zone and skated past the right circle. Able to catch Raanta not set, Zibanejad surprised him by shooting to go five-hole for a power play goal at 9:51 that made it 2-0.

That was even worse. If you want to give Raanta the benefit of the doubt on Motte’s goal due to Skjei partially screening him, this one was brutal. Zibanejad got an early Memorial Day gift for his seventh of the postseason.

A Miller turnover behind his net resulted in Trouba taking down Andrei Svechnikov for a tripping minor witu 7:12 remaining. The first Hurricanes power play had some great looks. But they couldn’t beat Shesterkin.

The best scoring chance came when Teravainen let go of a high riser that Shesterkin reached up to get his glove on it to push it wide. He would also deny Aho and then make a big glove save on DeAngelo, who looked skyward in disbelief. Those three saves were huge.

Buoyed by a good power play, the Canes continued to ramp up the pressure. But Shesterkin robbed Max Domi and then denied the pesky Jordan Martinook twice to keep them behind by two.

To be perfectly honest, if it weren’t for Igor, there’s no way they escape the first period leading by two. He was the biggest difference in this game. While Raanta struggled for the first time in the series, Shesterkin was a brick wall. He stopped all 15 Hurricanes’ shots in a busy first period.

Raanta did make a couple of key stops on Trouba late in the period to keep the deficit at two. Shots favored the Canes 15-12. They led in face-offs 15-6. The Rangers had too many giveaways (9) that fueled the Carolina attack. They cleaned it up over the next two periods.

In the second period, the reunited third line created two great chances off rushes. On the first one, Lafreniere had Chytil on a two-on-one. But he missed wide. But before you knew it, a pass from Fox trapped a pinching Brady Skjei and Jesperi Kotkaniemi to create another two-on-one.

This time, Chytil whipped a wrist shot high short side past the glove of Raanta inside the post for a 3-0 lead at 3:24. That was all for him. He allowed three goals on 13 shots in 23:24.

Brind’Amour had seen enough. He inserted highly thought Russian newcomer Pyotr Kochetkov. He played well in limited action against Boston. He also beat the Rangers in the final week to help the Canes earn the home ice they’ll have for Monday’s big game.

The move worked. Less than two minutes later, Seth Jarvis and Aho were able to combine to get the puck up for a Skjei shot that beat Shesterkin high glove with traffic at 5:05. It was back to 3-1.

However, Chytil took a Lafreniere feed and then bounced off a Smith check in the corner. He then was able to get off a deceptive backhand that beat Kochetkov high inside the goalpost for his second of the period. It answered the Skjei tally 1:42 later.

Filthy. Chytil has been having a good series. He finally got the results. Well deserved. Somewhat noteworthy, Shesterkin got his second assist of the game to make some playoff history. He started the play with the outlet for Lafreniere. He did it all literally.

On another good chance, Ryan Lindgren actually took the puck to the net where Kochetkov stopped him. With the Blueshirts searching for the rebound, there was a scrum. Just your usual playoff battle. Nothing over the top.

As fans chanted, “Tony [DeAngelo] sucks,” Jarvis had a great chance in front, but Shesterkin denied him to keep it 4-1 with 9:31 left. More often than not, he turned away the Canes. It definitely wore on them.

On a very active shift by the fourth line, Reaves did his best work when he caught Martinook with a clean hit. The best of the game from him.

After Panarin set up a Copp shot that hit the post, the Hurricanes came back to score on the opposite end. This time, Skjei took a Marty Necas feed and got a tricky shot through that hopped off Shesterkin for Trocheck, who was able to get a bounce off Lindgren for his second goal of the series.

That cut it to 4-2 with still 7:13 remaining in the period. Making matters worse, Chris Kreider took an undisciplined penalty by hooking Jarvis just nine seconds later to put Carolina on a crucial power play.

This was a huge part of the game. To their credit, the Rangers got it done on the penalty kill. They only allowed two long shots from DeAngelo and Trocheck that Shesterkin easily handled. Both Fox and Trouba had key blocks that helped them get out of trouble.

With less than five minutes left, Kreider had a good chance to increase the lead. But he sent a wrist shot wide. He’s struggled to finish in this round. Something tells me they’re gonna need him to deliver tomorrow night.

Chytil had a chance at the hat trick. But his low backhand was turned aside by Kochetkov. He really was impressive. So was Lafreniere, who continues to finish checks while making plays on the forecheck. His overall game has really improved.

On an extended shift by the Hurricanes, they created a couple of opportunities. But Shesterkin made stops on Slavin and Jarvis point blank to keep the score 4-2.

Noticing that Braun, Braden Schneider and Kaapo Kakko were out a long time, an overly aggressive Shesterkin came out of his net and knocked down Jarvis. It was an interference minor penalty with 2:18 left in the second.

It was another big part of the game. It gave the Canes a second straight chance on the power play to pull within one. However, the penalty kill was superb. The pressure up top forced DeAngelo into a giveaway and easy clear to cheers. His frustration would soon boil over.

At the start of the third period, the Hurricanes began to come. But after two shots that Shesterkin ate up, it would be a face-off that really finished the game off.

Following Zibanejad getting chased, Kreider stepped in to take a draw against Aho. After losing it, he took an accidental high-stick from Slavin on a loose puck that was in mid-air. After they called it a double minor, they reviewed it to make sure.

Slavin protested that it was a follow through. But it wasn’t due to where the puck was. With Kreider cut on the play, the Rangers went on a four-minute man-advantage. It looked like the five-on-four would fail. The top unit turned over the puck which allowed the Canes to send it down the ice.

Over a minute later, a lazy Panarin hook on Aho made it four-on-four. Before you could turn around, Ian Cole took an interference minor on Copp to put the Rangers back on a the power play.

After an abbreviated four-on-three, Panarin returned to make it a five-on-three. Instead of messing around, he took a Kreider pass and whipped a snapshot past the glove of Kochetkov inside the far post for a 5-2 lead with 12:17 left. It was the first goal of the series for Panarin. His first since the Game Seven overtime heroics last round.

Playing a stronger period up by three, the Rangers didn’t allow many quality chances. Trocheck got his own rebound in front which Shesterkin easily gloved. But he wasn’t beating him there.

Goodrow got into a battle with Trocheck taking him off the ice for two minutes. That’s who he is. An antagonizing player who gets underneath the skin of opponents. Both served roughing minors.

On a delayed call on Miller for tripping up Jesperi Kotkaniemi, DeAngelo finally lost his cool. After the Rangers touched up to stop play, he foolishly flipped a shot into the Rangers’ net. That led to chaos with players in his face. He earned two for unsportsmanlike conduct to negate a power play.

What that showed me is DeAngelo was frustrated. The Rangers have really done a good job neutralizing him. They’ve crowded him at the point to take away time and space. He only has one assist in the first six games. He can let the emotions get the best of him. It’s now happened twice. At the end of Game Three and in the third period of Game Five.

With nothing going, Brind’Amour changed his lines. He had Domi with Staal and Jarvis. It was a mixed bag. It didn’t matter. This one was over.

While the Canes tried to mix it up between whistles, it sure didn’t bother the Rangers. At one point, Trouba laughed off a challenge.

Aho took a roughing minor. Gallant stuck out Chytil to try for the hat trick. He didn’t get it. But he delivered big time.

As the buzzer sounded, Reaves had to be separated from Smith by the linesman. Smith must’ve said something. He is tough and can play that game. But Reaves would’ve made him pay. I’m glad they broke it up.

The game was over. When they all congratulated Shesterkin and saluted the crowd at center ice, it was a nice way to end a good game. Strome gave a thumbs up. Who knows if that’s the last home game he played as a Ranger. Let’s hope not.

They got it done. It was a T-E-A-M effort. Now, it’s all about Game Seven. One more win or go home scenario. Do or die. It’ll be the only seventh game of the second round. Someone will win and advance. The other won’t and have all summer to think about it.

No matter what happens, we should all be proud of how this team plays with their backs to the wall. When Emily Kaplan asked Motte about it, he talked about the character they have in the room.

They believe. He also told her that he looked to the sky and pointed due to the passing of his fiancée’s grandma. Indicating maybe he had help with that first goal.

Whatever the case, it sure is exciting. One more chance at winning a road game in Carolina. For a shot at the two-time defending champion Lightning in the Conference Finals. It doesn’t get much better.

Who’s ready? Let’s Go!!!!!

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Rangers look to bounce back and force a deciding Game Seven

Following a dismal effort that resulted in a predictable 3-1 defeat in Game Five to the Hurricanes, it’s all on the line for the Rangers later tonight.

It’s do or die. A tough position they’ve been in before during this postseason. In the first round, they stared elimination in the face by rallying from multiple deficits to win the final three games against the Penguins.

By the dramatic conclusion that was highlighted by an Artemi Panarin power play goal in overtime to come back and defeat the Pens 4-3 in overtime, that comeback from 3-1 down made them stronger. It’s why they were able to shrug off a two games to none deficit and win the next two at MSG in convincing fashion.

Now, following their worst game of the second round, they once again look to show the resilience and bounce back ability that have characterized this team. Win Game Six on home ice before a great atmosphere in prime time and extend the Eastern Conference Semifinals to a deciding Game Seven.

There’s no point in harping on what took place on Thursday night in Raleigh. That’s over with. As Gerard Gallant mentioned in the postgame interview above, they didn’t have much. Now, it’s about rising up and playing their game to put the pressure back on Carolina.

If they play the way they can to back up home ice at MSG starting at 8 PM tonight on ESPN, then there’ll be a Game Seven back in Carolina on Monday night. That’s their goal. Win this game and give themselves one more chance at winning this very odd series on the road.

One thing that should be pointed out is that they can’t expect it to come as easy as Games Three and Four. Especially the latter when they were never seriously threatened in a 4-1 victory. One that was easily their best of the series.

Don’t forget that the Hurricanes have been knocking on the door the past few years. They reached a Conference Finals under Rod Brind’Amour in 2019 and lost in the second round the past two years. Expect a better game from them.

What that means for the Rangers is they will need to bring their best game to push it seven. There can’t be any passengers. Starting with Chris Kreider, who didn’t have a shot in Game Five and has been held to only a goal in the first five games, the emotional leader must be a factor on Saturday night.

It also means better games from Mika Zibanejad, a banged up Panarin, Ryan Strome, Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba. It’s that top six and those two defensemen who have gotten them to this point.

They can’t rely on Alexis Lafreniere or Filip Chytil to be the most consistent players each shift. That’s a losing proposition. As effective as both have been, they’ve only combined for two points. That would be Lafreniere setting up Chytil for the first goal of the series. Nothing since even though they’ve both had chances.

Undoubtedly, Igor Shesterkin will need to be at his absolute peak. He’s had a strong second round. The three goals he permitted on Thursday were the most the Canes have scored against him. He’s allowed eight goals on 156 shots. Superb numbers.

It doesn’t matter. They might need Shesterkin to be perfect. Antti Raanta has only allowed eight goals on 126 shots. The backup has played well in the first two rounds while starter Frederik Andersen gets closer to returning. He hasn’t been under as much duress as Shesterkin, who’s held up well to the Canes’ storm surge.

Every detail matters in these crucial games. For the Rangers, their puck management must be a lot better when they drop the puck at approximately 8:10 tonight. Whether it’s winning enough key face-offs or battles for loose pucks, they better be prepared.

It means doing a better job managing pucks in their end. They’ve struggled repeatedly with the aggressive Carolina forecheck. Limiting mistakes and making crisp passes to get out of their zone are necessary.

There can’t be Trouba coughing up pucks at the slightest pressure. Certainly not Fox getting caught up ice and beaten like he was by Andrei Svechnikov for the Canes’ insurance marker in a dreadful third period. Nor K’Andre Miller leaving his feet too early to allow a pass to get through for a goal.

The fundamentals are essential. They want to chip pucks behind the Canes’ defense and get on the attack. Too often, they’ve been chasing the action. When they use their skating legs and forecheck, that’s when they’re most effective.

That also means more hitting from Ryan Reaves than the one check he was credited with in Game Five. If he’s not taking the body, he’s useless. They need to be the punishers in Game Six. Not the punished. Too often, that was the case.

It will take all 18 skaters buying in and pushing forward. Whether Gallant has Tyler Motte up on the third line or moves Kaapo Kakko back up with Chytil and Lafreniere, they have to be in sync. Good shifts. Consistent work ethic. Make the right plays to find their game.

Personally, I would reunite Kakko with Chytil and Lafreniere. The young trio has brought energy when together. They’ve been able to use their combination of skating and skill to get pucks deep on the cycle. Something we haven’t seen enough of.

It makes sense to go with the four lines that got them here. That means Motte back down on the fourth line where his speed and grit can aid Kevin Rooney and Reaves. Kakko isn’t a fit on that line. It was a waste sticking him there. Either he plays top nine or there isn’t a place for him.

You can’t account for chemistry. If for some reason the lines aren’t clicking, then Gallant shouldn’t hesitate to adjust tonight. It’s win or go home for the summer. In a similar situation against Pittsburgh, he moved Lafreniere and Copp up with Zibanejad. It sure worked out.

What about the third pair of Justin Braun and Braden Schneider? They haven’t played a lot in this round. However, with the top four looking a little worn out due to the Canes’ taxing style, he must trust Braun and Schneider enough to give them regular shifts.

It can’t all fall on Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Trouba and Miller. The latter pair haven’t been as effective this series. They need a strong game. Of the four, Lindgren remains the most steady. Even through whatever is ailing him, he’s played well. He’s a warrior for a reason.

Undoubtedly, they’ll have to play better at five-on-five. That means controlling the pace and pinning the Canes in. That can lead to drawing penalties. Obviously, special teams really hurt them in Game Five.

Even though Zibanejad scored six seconds into their second power play, they allowed a shorthanded goal to Vincent Trocheck and gave up Teuvo Teravainen’s game-winner on a Vatrano hooking penalty.

For the series, the power play is only plus-one. They’ve scored three times and given up two shorthanded goals. That can’t happen later. They must make smarter decisions with the puck. That also means moving the Canes’ four penalty killers around like Game Four and tiring them out.

It means setting up good shots with traffic. Make it harder on Raanta. It also means taking advantage of the opportunities when they’re there.

Discipline will be a key factor if they’re to force a deciding seventh game. Stay away from lazy penalties. If they do wind up shorthanded, stay aggressive by attacking the points.

A lot will go into getting a win tonight. It’ll have to be earned. Once more, it’s time for the never say die Blueshirts to rise up to the challenge.

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