TAMPA, Fla. — For a fleeting second, the Rangers had hope.
To be actual, for 21 seconds.
Frank Vatrano had just damaged by way of with an influence play purpose to — in opposition to all conceivable logic — tie up Saturday’s recreation. The Rangers had been totally outplayed by the Lightning. They have been solely within the recreation as a result of of Igor Shesterkin’s brilliance. They regarded drained and battered and damaged and each bit like their season was going to finish.
And within the space of one shot by Vatrano, all of that modified.
This was all of a sudden the identical film the Rangers had directed all postseason. The one the place they win an elimination recreation they’ve little business successful. The one the place Shesterkin offers them some magic, a puck sneaks by Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Rangers discover themselves going again to New York a recreation away from the Stanley Cup Final.
It defied any affordable evaluation of hockey that the sport was tied. But it match proper in with any conception of this group.
And for 21 seconds, the Rangers believed.
“Make it 1-1 late in the third, you’re obviously thinking you got a shot,” Adam Fox mentioned later. “Like you said, we’ve done it before.”
But this time, the film had a unique ending.
“This time,” Fox mentioned, “we weren’t able to finish it off.”
The exhausting lesson of this Eastern Conference finals defeat for the Rangers is that the Lightning are merely on one other stage. And they discovered it one last time on Saturday.
Because whereas they have been nonetheless using the excessive from Vatrano’s purpose, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov have been breaking apart the ice. And earlier than the Amalie Arena crowd could possibly be correctly deflated, Stamkos jolted it again into life, beating Shesterkin and handing a 2-1 lead again to the Lightning.
“I don’t know what happened,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant mentioned. “They got a goal. We battled hard, come back and tie the game on our power play goal. They come down and get a two-on-one and put it in the net.”
It was a swift, chilly slap within the face. The Rangers’ resilience solely may get them to this point. Shesterkin solely may get them to this point. There can be no completely happy ending right here. Only a lifeless drained group of gamers in a handshake line, attempting to swat away actuality.
“We battled there at the end and tied it,” Fox mentioned. “But just didn’t get this one.”
For the last 40 days, the Rangers have been strolling alongside a cliff’s edge and managing to remain upright, it doesn’t matter what.
For 21 seconds, it regarded like they just may by some means achieve this once more.
But lastly, they fell over.