Not only does “promise three-game opposing leadership”, there may not be a more serious phrase in playoff hockey than “essential game 5”.
After all, every post-season game, especially when teams reach the Eastern Conference Finals like the Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning, is crucial.
That was certainly true on Tuesday when the Rangers and Lightning played their 4th game in Tampa, Fla. The Rangers, who had a two-game winning streak to go home to get a spot in the Stanley Cup finals against the Colorado Avalanche, completed a sweep of the Edmonton Oilers on Monday and avoided seven more tiring games. As they had in the first round against the Penguins and against the Hurricanes in the conference semifinals.
Lightning wanted to focus on their 3rd game, coming off the win and on their way to continuing their third straight Stanley Cup title. Their deep knockout experience ended up making the difference as Lightning overwhelmed the Rangers, 4-1, to return the team to New York on Thursday for Game 5, which tied the series.
If you applied for a Stanley Cup competitor at the Hockey Team Factory, Lightning would appear on your doorstep. The team is full of confident and seasoned stars like Steven Stamkos, their captain; Nikita Kucherov; and Ondrej Palat, who have played together since 2015, when they defeated the Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals.
After the Rangers left in the first two games of the New York series, Lightning played with their speed and discipline characteristics. They were faster on the puck, got the rebounds and pushed the Rangers, allowing important parts of the game to pass into the attacking field.
“It wasn’t our best, games 1 and 2,” Lightning defender Zach Bogosian said after the game. “2. towards the end of the match we started to get back to our identity a bit and we showed the last two games at home. Now it’s time to dump her and move on. “
The Rangers appeared lucky to shoot from the ice on a single goal after the first period and two goals down after the second period.
“We’re getting our speed back into the game and finding ways to get behind the puck,” the Tampa Bay striker said. said Patrick Maroon after the match.
Somehow, the Rangers are not like that Lightning team that won in 2015. They started the season with the third youngest man in the NHL, and played a lot of fun for most of the year. They were beaten by the more experienced Pittsburgh Penguins, then knocked out by the Carolina Hurricanes, who won the Metropolitan Division against the Rangers.
As the Rangers learned in two Tampa losses, Lightning is at the top. The Rangers ’top players were bottled up, including their top scorer, Chris Kreider, and his best pass, including Artemi Panarin. They only took a few penalties and kept the Rangers’ power-play units out of the ice for the first two seasons of Game 4. Goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy regained the confidence he had escaped in the first two games.
“There’s a lot of experience in this room,” Stamkos said after the match. “That’s what we’re based on.”
Lightning took the lead less than three minutes into Game 4 when Bogosian’s shot was blocked by Rangers goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin, but Maroon slipped in uncontrollably and threw the record over Shesterkin’s pill and into the net. It was Maroon’s third goal of the playoffs and a bad sign for the Rangers, as a fourth line Lightning won as he played in the power play.
Shortly afterwards, the Rangers faced another test when Ryan Reaves called for their executive to stumble. Shesterkin kept the Rangers in the game when the puck drowned out.
Shesterkin wasn’t Rangers’ problem, though. The second time, the Rangers survived for a while, but showed nothing after spending large amounts of energy.
Then Palate, who scored in the 3rd game with less than a minute to go, turned around in the neutral zone and passed to his linebacker, Kucherov, who was just waiting on the blue line. Kucherov broke up and put the puck between Shesterkin’s pads to make it 2-0 for Tampa Bay.
Kucherov scored his seventh goal of the playoffs, and for the third time in a row with at least 20 points in the playoffs, it was the first time Sergei Fedorov had been in the Hall of the Red Wings for four consecutive seasons between 1995 and 1998.
The Rangers finally scored the goal with 3:33 left in the game, ending a drought that lasted until the middle of the 3rd game when Panarin took a loose puck and fired after Vasilevsky. It was Rangers ’17th power-play goal in the playoffs, which alone helped the Rangers play with the same strength as they did badly.
The Rangers are not finished, of course. They still have a home ice advantage and are 8-1 at Madison Square Garden so far in the playoffs. The only defeat in the playoffs was in the opening game of the first round, when they lost to the Penguins in a triple overtime.
The Rangers also played their best hockey with their backs to the wall in the playoffs. They outscored the Penguins by three games in the first round and were knocked out by Hurricanes on the road to win Game 7.
“They play all kinds of plays and have a really good speed,” Anthony Cirelli of the Lightning Center said after the game. “You have to be on top of them. When they’re on the ice, you have to know where they are and limit them. ‘
It’s a question that the Rangers will be all about. Ryan Strom did not play in Game 4 after being injured on Sunday. And center-back Filip Chytil, a third of the “Kid Line” team of Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko, all 22 or younger, left the game in Game 4 after receiving a blow through the wall.
Whether Strome and Chytil play together, Lightning will be the first team in this series to win away from home.
“Someday, if we want to win the series, we’re going to have to win on the road,” Stamkos said.