Rangers Cede Control of Conference Finals to the Lightning

Though they have been dealing with the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, and although that they had wanted seven video games to advance from every of the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Rangers all the time had a trump card of their pocket: Fortress Madison Square Garden.

Even after shedding two video games in Tampa to enable the Lightning to tie the collection, there was an unshakable sense of confidence in Rangerland coming into Game 5. After all, the group was 8-1 at dwelling in the playoffs, its solely loss coming in triple time beyond regulation in the very first sport towards the Pittsburgh Penguins.

So when the Lightning ended the magic with a 3-1 victory at the Garden on Thursday night time, it was a hammer blow. And all the extra irritating as a result of the key Tampa objectives got here not fully from the energy trio of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, but additionally from an unlikely defenseman taking a pair of low-percentage pictures.

The Rangers began the night time promisingly. Seemingly infused with vitality from their venerable area, they performed from the opening face-off with an authority and crispness lacking in Tampa. The tempo was quick, and the first interval was free-flowing and penalty free.

Disquietingly for the Rangers, who clearly had the higher hand, it was additionally aim free. New York fired off eight pictures, and Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy saved all of them. His counterpart Igor Shesterkin was referred to as upon to save simply three. And this got here from a Rangers group that had been outshot, 153-127, in the first 4 video games.

The Lightning at occasions in the early going appeared much less like the two-time defending champions and extra like a group awed by the event. Every time (and there have been many) that there was a face-off in the Lightning finish, there was the sense that this may be the second the Rangers lastly broke via.

But dominance doesn’t depend until you rating a aim. The Rangers lastly obtained theirs at 10:29 of the second interval not from dominance, however nearly from happenstance. Defenseman Ryan Lindgren scored for his first level of the collection and second aim of the playoffs by way of a speculative flick from close to the boards that possibly was supposed for a deflection. Instead it went in.

But if New York anticipated that drawing first blood would crack the sport open, it was mistaken. A one-goal lead is a slender reed, even at the Garden. Tampa Bay’s answer got here at 17:34 of the second, and it was in some way much more unlikely.

Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev scored his first aim of the playoffs. It too was unassisted: a excessive shot almost from the blue line that sailed waist-high previous not less than three Rangers in addition to Corey Perry of the Lightning camped in the crease, then most significantly Shesterkin, who might do nothing.

Besides equalizing the rating, the guests had chipped away at the Rangers’ pre-eminence. After the second interval, the hole in pictures was gone, and each goalies had made precisely 15 saves on 16 pictures.

In the frenetic third interval, each side narrowly failed to capitalize on breakaways and opponents’ errors, and the stress led to a pair of pushing-and-shoving scrums as nicely.

With 1:50 to go, Tampa delivered the coup de grâce, improbably once more as Sergachev, from simply inside the blue line, despatched the puck via visitors and Palat deflected it dwelling. That sucked the life from the raucous Garden trustworthy, who had already been gearing up for a number of overtimes, and primarily ended the sport, although Tampa added an empty-net aim by Brandon Hagel.

A case could possibly be made that this collection had tipped additional towards the Lightning with each sport.

Game 1 was successfully a romp, with the Rangers successful, 6-2, and the Lightning seeming rusty after every week off following their sweep of the Florida Panthers in the earlier spherical.

The Rangers gained Game 2 at dwelling, 3-2, and took a 2-0 lead in Game 3 in Tampa. But that was the high-water mark. Thirty seconds later, the Lightning scored and got here again to win 3-2. In Game 4, the Lightning dominated in a 4-1 victory. Suddenly, the collection was tied.

The Rangers have been relying on the dwelling constructing and crowd on Thursday to reverse that pattern, seemingly as a lot as they have been relying on the likes of the 52-goal scorer Chris Kreider, and Artemi Panarin, so usually the greatest participant on the ice.

Kreider’s power-play prowess — he led the league in man-advantage objectives — was restricted by the almost whistle-free sport. The Rangers have been referred to as for simply two in-game penalties and the Lightning one. (A postgame brouhaha — starring Steven Stamkos and Alexis Lafrenière — led to six extra that have been too late to affect the closing rating.)

“It was one of those games; it was a defensive battle,” stated Rangers coach Gerard Gallant, saying Shesterkin had been screened and never seen both the first or second aim. “We played a sound hockey game. It’s tough to lose like that at the end, but it was a good hockey game. It could have went either way.”

The year has been successful for the Rangers, who’re coming off a tear-down and rebuild that had led them to miss the playoffs the earlier 4 seasons. For a group that at its greatest was 25-1 when the season began, a convention closing is overachievement. And regardless of the deflating loss, the Rangers are usually not technically useless but.

The Rangers got here again from three-games-to-one down towards the Penguins, lastly successful in time beyond regulation in Game 7. They got here again twice towards the Hurricanes in the subsequent spherical, and gained one other Game 7.

Now down three-games-to-two once more, they want two straight wins. Worryingly, the first of these on Saturday, should are available Tampa.

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