Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Lightning and Rangers is tonight and the Rangers find themselves down 3-2 to the defending champions. For head coach Gerard Gallant and his Rangers team, the good news is they have been here before during this extraordinary playoff run and have proven they can come from behind on the run, but the bad news is this time they face the defending Stanley Cup champions on their home ice.
One thing about this Rangers team is that they play very well with their backs against the wall. In five elimination games in the two previous playoff rounds, the Rangers went undefeated, battling back from three games to one against the Pittsburgh Penguins in round one. Then against the Carolina Hurricanes, they won games five and seven on the road to overcome the Metropolitan division winners in come-from-behind fashion to get to the conference finals.
Head coach Gerard Gallant has been the guiding force behind this team all playoffs long and he expressed confidence in his team’s leadership.
Trouba, Kreider, Goodrow, there’s all kinds of leaders in there. We’ve been through it, so don’t change your routine. Get ready to play the same type of game.
Raising their Battle Level
In-game five at Madison Square Garden, it was a tie game heading into the final two minutes of the third period and the Lightning won when Mikhail Sergachev‘s shot found a way through a heavy screen in front of the Rangers’ stellar goaltender Igor Shesterkin. The reason that the shot found its way through is that Chris Kreider did not block Sergachev’s shot even though he was in the area. To win game six, New York has to have a higher battle level, which sacrifices it all for the good of the cause.
You saw the fight in New York at the end of game five when the youngest Ranger forward, Alexis Lafrenière dropped the gloves with the Lightning’s captain, Steven Stamkos and held his own against a guy who is 12 years older than he is.
One guy who has embodied a gritty, team-first attitude better than any other Rangers player this season is Ryan Lindgren. In a tight-checking game five, it was Lindgren who scored the Rangers’ first goal because he basically threw the puck on the net without hesitation and that decisiveness is what will be needed in game six.
What can get the Ranger Offense Started?
One of the reasons the Rangers’ offence could not get much going at five-on-five was not shooting enough on Andrei Vasilveskiy. The Rangers passed up a shot on a 2-on-1 late in the game where Andrew Copp could have taken a shot but tried to pass it to the forward who driving the net, even though a Lightning defenseman was covering him. The play got broken up and in tonight’s game, the Rangers have to stop trying to be cute and try to overwhelm the Lightning goal.
Doing that will be easier said than done as the Lightning defence has looked very solid lately, giving up just two goals in the last two games. One way the Rangers can put more pressure on Tampa is to get the puck deep in Tampa’s zone and win one-on-one battles, which will be tough but that means it is on the Rangers’ top line which includes Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Frank Vatrano to outwork a Lightning top line that is without their center Brayden Point. The Rangers will not be able to control the puck in the offensive zone unless they take it from the Lightning at key moments in this game.
On the defensive side of things, look for the Rangers enforcer on the blue line, Jacob Trouba to send a message to the Lightning’s top line early in this game. For one, Ondrej Palat, who nobody considers a gamechanger has scored two goals and two assists in the last two games of this series and is a player who the Rangers need to silence (in a legal way) in game six. It worked in the previous series against Carolina and it has to be something that the Rangers use to intimidate a top line that has seemed very confident in the last three games of this series. Everybody get on the ‘Trou-Trou Train’ and get ready for game six!
main image credits: