Despite defending twice against the Tampa Bay Lightning champion, and needing seven games to advance to the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Rangers always had a cap in their pocket: Fortress Madison Square Garden.
Even though they lost two games in Tampa, allowing Lightning to tie the series, there was a perfect feeling of confidence in Rangerland as they reached Game 5. After all, the team was 8-1 at home in the playoffs, their only loss came in. a triple overtime in the first game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
So the Lightning put an end to the magic on Thursday night with Garden’s 3-1 win, it was a hammer blow. And even more disappointing, Tampa’s key goals didn’t come entirely from the power trio of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palate, but rather from a hard-fought defense with a couple of low-percentage shots.
The Rangers started the night hopefully. Apparently full of energy from their venerable arena, they played head-to-head in the early stages in Tampa for lack of authority and rigor. The pace was fast, and the first time was free and without penalties.
Worrying for the Rangers, who clearly dominated, it was also a free kick. New York made eight shots, and Andning Vasilevskiy Lightning goalkeeper saved all of them. He was called up to save three of his peers, Igor Shester. And this came at the hands of a Rangers team that was left out in the first four games, 153-127.
Lightning, on the other hand, did not look like the two-time defending champion at first and looked like a team that was impressed by the occasion. Every time the Lightning faced each other at the end (and there were many), it made sense that it would be the moment when the Rangers finally broke up.
But dominance is not valid unless you score a goal. The Rangers finally got theirs at 10:29 in the second half not from dominance, but almost by chance. Defensive Ryan Lindgren scored his first point of the series and his second goal in the playoffs through a speculative shot near the boards, perhaps intended for a deflection. He came in instead.
But if New York had hoped that the first blood draw would open the game, he was wrong. The one-goal difference is slender, even in the garden. Tampa Bay’s response came at 5:34 p.m., and was somehow even harder.
Defender Mikhail Sergachev scored the first goal of the playoffs. It was also unassisted: an almost high shot from the blue line went up the waist at least three Rangers and Corey Perry camped in a Lightning slot, then most importantly Shesterkin, could not do anything.
In addition to leveling the score, the visitors pushed away the dominance of the Rangers. After the second half, the difference in shots disappeared, and the two goalkeepers made 15 stops in 16 shots.
In the frantic third period, both sides failed to take advantage of their escapes and the mistakes of their opponents, and the tension also led to a couple of pushes and pushes.
With 1:50 left to finish, Tampa delivered the coup de grace, probably again as Sergachev, inside the blue line, sent the puck out of traffic and Palate deflected it home. That sucked his life out of the bustling Loyal Garden, who was already preparing for one or more overtimes, and he basically ended the game even though Tampa scored Brandon Hagel’s goal.
It could be said that this series has moved more towards Lightning in every game.
Game 1 was a break, the Rangers won 6-2, and Lightning looked rusty after a week-long break after a sweep with the Florida Panthers in the previous round.
The Rangers won Game 2 at home, 3-2, and advanced 2-0 in Game 3 of Tampa. But that was the top mark. Thirty seconds later, Lightning scored and came back to win 3-2. In Game 4, Lightning prevailed with a 4-1 victory. Suddenly, the series was tied up.
The Rangers home team and crowd were counting on Thursday to reverse that trend, apparently with 52-goal scorer Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin, often the best ice player, being counted.
Kreider’s power play — his men’s lead advantage in the league — limited his play with almost no whistles. The Rangers called for just two in-game penalties and a lightning strike. (The post-game brouhaha – starring Steven Stamkos and Alexis Lafrenière – brought in six others who were too late to make an impact on the final score.)
“It was one of those games; it was a defensive struggle, ”said Rangers coach Gerard Gallant, who was screened by Shesterkin and said he saw neither the first nor the second goal. “We played a game of hockey. It’s hard to lose like that in the end, but it was a good hockey game. He could have gone anyway. ”
The year has been a successful one for the Rangers, who have been knocked down and rebuilt in the previous four seasons leading up to a knockout loss. For a team that was 25-1 at its best at the start of the season, it’s about overcoming the final conference. And despite the deflating loss, the Rangers are not technically still dead.
They came back suddenly from three games against the Rangers Penguins, eventually winning the 7th in overtime. They came back twice in the next round against Hurricanes and won another 7th game.
Now down to three games in a row, they need two wins in a row. Worryingly, the first one on Saturday is to come to Tampa.