25 Rangers Playoff Reflections Now That the Ice Has Cleared

The Rangers music has stopped, but the melody lingers on and, despite the Blueshirts’ playoff defeat, there are sweet choruses to sing about 2014-15.

I’ve always felt that the top point-getting team never gets enough credit for slogging through a challenging 82-game schedule to finish Number One out of 30 clubs.

Yes, there’s the Presidents’ Trophy for all that work but it’s soon forgotten as soon as the first playoff puck is dropped.

Looking backward over three playoff rounds, I have 25 reflections now that the ice has cleared and I regain my 20-20 hindsight:

1. The easiest way to explain the ending of the Rangers’ six consecutive Game 7 victory streak is that it couldn’t go on forever.

2. It’s called succumbing to the Law of Averages. The same thing happened to the Detroit Red Wings from 1949-64 and the Boston Bruins from 1983-94.

3. The exact Law of Averages rule holds when you consider that the final loss was the Blueshirts’ first Game 7 defeat at The Garden — after six straight wins —  and first elimination game loss at home ending an NHL record 10-0 run.

4. If a Rangers’ Playoff MVP is to be named, my choice is Henrik Lundqvist. The King needed more goals in the two most critical MSG contests, Games 5 and 7 (2-0, 2-0). Give Henrik a first goal in either game and it’s a win.

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5. That Ryan McDonagh played more than one game with a broken foot goes down as one of the most heroic feats in New York sports history.

6. Pointing a finger at the two most critical turning points in Game 7 — and therefore the Eastern Conference Final — it had to be New York’s inability to produce a goal on either of its two Game 7 power plays.

7. If I Had To Do It Over Department: Right now, it’s easy to say but in retrospect, I would have played James Sheppard in place of Martin St. Louis in Game 7.

8. Sheppard not only was a positive physical factor when he was on the ice but also could score. With all deference and admiration for the future Hall of Famer, St. Louis’ rifle delivered only one goal. Sheppard’s physical play in the Bolts end was an overlooked key to New York’s success in Games 4 and 6.

9. Never should the Rangers’ effort be questioned.

10. If I Had To Do It Over Department, Part Two: I would have liked to see the Rangers’ mode of attack that succeeded in Games 4 and 6 employed in Game 7. In the finale, it appeared more like the Blueshirts were using the script from Game 5.

11. The Rangers’ current core still is in a good place on the championship curve.

12. Wear and tear from having played almost an entire extra season of hockey — in terms of playoff games — the last four years may explain the club coming up goal-empty in Game 7.

13. When it comes to “Bottom Lines,” the Rangers had a remarkable run playing on the edge.

14. Many of us — The Maven at the top of the list — under-appreciated the Lightning’s talent top to bottom.

15. The Triplet Line — Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat — is one of the NHL’s best consistent offensive units. Tiny Tyler has emerged as a genuine star and may have been underestimated until he blasted a hat trick.

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16. Once Bolts captain Steven Stamkos found his game, the Rangers had two major offensive trios to shut down and that was no easy task.

17. Reader Alan Greenberg writes from Florida: “If I have to pick a turning point it would be Game 3. For the Rangers to score five goals and still lose was a bad sign.”

18. Once and for all it’s time to bury that old bromide about “home-ice advantage.” Not when the Rangers lose three Final games at MSG.

19. Reader Joel Hirschhorn writes from Milburn, New Jersey. “The three greatest things from Game 7 for the Rangers were: A. Henrik Lundqvist’s goaltending; B. Ryan McDonagh playing despite a broken foot; C. Having the face-off edge. I enjoyed watching them all season.” … Me, too!

20. I doubt that anyone can argue with this statement: In the Bolts-Blueshirts series we saw two very likable teams which play hockey the right way. Each displayed skill guys without any goons to deface the contests.

21. Also; can anyone really argue with the officiating one way or another? Certainly not in Game 7.

22. My most pleasant surprise, Rangers-wise, was the positive manner in which Tanner Glass fit into the lineup as an effective fourth-liner. He took his cue from the most underrated Blueshirt of the season and playoffs, Dominic Moore.

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23. Back in September, The Game’s “Bible,” The Hockey News, established that the Rangers’ Stanley Cup odds were 17-1. It had the Lightning at 11-1.

24. The Hockey News also opined, “The Blueshirts’ aim to avoid a probable hangover after a run to the Stanley Cup Final.” They did avoid that “hangover,” they just couldn’t score in Game 7.

25. Or, as King Henrik so aptly asserted, “If we get the big play at the right time (in Game 7) it would have been a different result.”

P.S. As William Shakespeare so aptly commented before there were Stanley Cup playoff games: “There is much virtue in if.”

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It Wasn’t Supposed to End This Way for the Rangers

 

The bugler was not supposed to blow Taps for the Rangers. No way.

Confetti and cheers for the Blueshirts were to cascade down at The Garden on Friday night and plans for the Stanley Cup Final were to be studied.

Playing golf was to be only an afterthought for the Blueshirts at this point in time.

Unfortunately, the Tampa Bay Lightning had other plans; namely pulling off an upset on Seventh Avenue and that they did to the sorrowful tune of a 2-0 decision, thanks to another Ben Bishop blanking resembling that of Game 5 at The Garden.

“We were right there,” explained a dejected Henrik Lundqvist who had played valiantly, keeping his team alive throughout. “It was a tight game and if we get a bounce and a big play at the right time, it would have been a different score. It was that tight of a game, but we came up short. We worked really long and hard to get here and be in this position. To come up short, it’s tough.”

Among the questions to be answered:

OFFENSE: How could the team that so outplayed the Lightning in Tampa Bay in Game 6 offer a lesser offense before a roaring home crowd?

ANSWER: The Lightning stifled the Rangers at the blue line and neutral zone. Unlike Tuesday night’s game, the Florida sextet was stingy with giveaways in its defensive zone.

POWER PLAY: Only two penalties were called, both against the visitors. With the man advantage, the Blueshirts could not summon a major threat against Bishop, who had played the sieve only one game before.

ANSWER: The New Yorkers seemed to be trying too hard to make the perfect play and didn’t sufficiently blitz the tall Tampa goalie.

THE GUNNERS: Derick Brassard‘s sixth-game hat trick evaporated from memory as he was blanked in the finale. Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Martin St. Louis and the other big offensive players for the Blueshirts could not sufficiently penetrate a suffocating group of checkers.

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ANSWER: The Rangers were mostly kept to the outside by the Lightning defenders, preventing high-quality chances. When there were threats, Bishop handled them with aplomb.

ENERGY: Did the Rangers run out of gas between Tuesday’s win and Game 7?

ANSWER: It seemed more a question of the Law of Averages catching up with the Rangers’ skein of winning Game 7s.

THE ONE-GAME DELAY: Normally, the seventh game would have been played on Thursday night at The Garden, but it was pushed ahead to Friday because of a prior Garden concert commitment. Did that extra day of rest benefit the Bolts more than the Rangers who lost whatever momentum had been built in the 7-3 Lightning triumph at Amalie Arena on Tuesday?

ANSWER: It clearly helped the visitors, enabling several Tampa players to recover from the flu bug that had bit the Bolts.

A FORGOTTEN CONFIDENCE BUILDER: While the Rangers overwhelmed the Bolts in Game 6, Jon Cooper’s club beat Lundqvist twice late in the game. Those goals could very well have been a major confidence builder for Tampa Bay heading into the series-closer. Was that, in fact, a factor?

ANSWER: Cooper allowed that those two goals gave his club a boost. “But we knew we could beat Henrik Lundqvist,” he added. “We had done it during the regular season.”

The most basic answer to the abrupt Rangers’ exit was that the Floridians were more opportunistic.

“Our guys played real hard,” said Alain Vigneault, “and battled real hard. This is very disappointing to us.”

The Rangers’ coach revealed that Ryan McDonagh had been playing in a “couple of games” on a broken foot.

But what about some key Rangers?

MARC STAAL:

“You’re in the third period 0-0, it’s never a bad idea to shoot. They found a way to get a couple and we just didn’t.

“I’m proud of this group. We fought through some injuries this season. But we’re going home and they’re not.”

DAN GIRARDI:

“It was a 20-minute game going into the third. Win the period, you win the conference.”

MARTIN ST. LOUIS:

“It’s tough. I wouldn’t have guessed we would lose three games in a row at home.”

DEREK STEPAN:

“We played a lot of good hockey this season and we played a lot of good playoff hockey. But it’s just the way it went.”

Cooper revealed that several of his players had come down with the flu prior to Game 6.

“Having the extra day off was a big help to us,” Cooper pointed out. “The guys [who were sick] benefitted from that.”

Despite the 0-0 deadlock going into the third period, the Lightning had matched the Rangers’ chance for chance and were outshooting the Blueshirts. The Bolts’ winning goal — delivered by Alex Killorn — was a backhander from the slot at 1:54 of the final frame.

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“It seemed to have eyes,” Killorn recalled of the shot that went through Lundqvist’s five-hole.

From that point until the 11-minute mark of the third period, Lundqvist kept his club close with a number of excellent saves. But Ondrej Palat scored the cushion goal at 11:17 from Tyler Johnson and Bishop.

Tenacious Tampa Bay checking and Bishop’s alert goaltending frustrated the Rangers from that point to the moment when Vigneault pulled his goalie for an extra skater with 3:44 remaining but the Lightning would not be denied.

SEVEN REASONS FOR THE FINAL RESULT:

1. The Rangers’ victory in Game 6 fueled the feeling among many of us — me, of course being part of it — that the Rangers’ blitz would continue through Friday night. In a sense, we suffered a build-up to a letdown.

2. The extra day rest helped the Lightning more than the Rangers.

3. At no time during the final game did Bishop betray the weaknesses that he suffered in the Tampa losses. Only once in the deciding game did he fall to the ice and have difficulty regaining his position. By that time his defensemen had cleared the puck.

4. Once the Lightning had blunted Ranger offensives in the first period and emerged tied 0-0, the deadlock gave the visitors incentive that they could play the New Yorkers even.

5. The feeling of confidence on the Bolts’ bench grew as the Rangers failed to score through two periods. It now came down to the first team getting a goal and then winning the game.

6. Facing Lundqvist in Game 7 did not faze the Lightning. “We knew we could beat him,” concluded Cooper, “just as we had during the regular season.”

7. Two marathon seasons in a row take a toll on teams that reach the Final one year and try to do it again. For example, the 2014 Cup champion Kings didn’t even make the playoffs this Spring. I’m convinced that the toll may — in some undefinable ways —  simply have de-energized the Blueshirts by Friday night through no fault of their own.

BOTTOM LINE: Disappointing though the final result of Game 7 may have been, it should not be overlooked that the Rangers were the Presidents’ Trophy winners and produced eight months of terrific hockey. Congratulations to the Blueshirts for those wonderful months of wins.

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BEST, WORST, AND MOST UNUSUAL OF GAME 7

FIRST PERIOD:

  • MOST UNUSUAL PREGAME DECISION:

Vigneualt scratched forward James Sheppard and replaced him with defenseman Matt Hunwick, dressing 11 forwards and seven defensemen. The switch was prompted by a possible injury to McDonagh, who did not take a shift until midway though the period.

  • BEST SAVE OF THE FIRST PERIOD:

Just past the 12-minute mark, Steven Stamkos deflected a shot from just outside the crease. Lundqvist fought off the shot and got just enough leather on the puck to put it over the crossbar.

  • BEST TEAM IN THE FIRST PERIOD:

While the Rangers made a strong push in the opening five minutes, the Lightning controlled the flow of play; they outshot the home team 9-5 in the opening frame. On the other hand, the Rangers had an advantage in the faceoff dot, winning nine out of 14 draws.

  • WORST ATTEMPT AT GETTING UP FROM BEING HORIZONTAL:

Positioned at the edge of the crease, Bishop made a save and hit the ice. It took several attempts to regain his footing.

SECOND PERIOD:

  • WORST CALL OF THE SECOND PERIOD:

With Nash streaking into the offensive zone, Brenden Morrow dove to lift the winger’s stick. He executed the play perfectly, but was called for a phantom hook.

  • WORST PENALTY OF THE MIDDLE FRAME:

The Lightning were dictating the pace until they took an ill-advised too many men on the ice penalty. But the Rangers couldn’t connect.

  • BEST SPECIAL-TEAMS PLAY OF THE PERIOD:

Tampa killed both New York penalties with relative ease; the Rangers on the other hand, only mustered two shots on goal during two power plays.

  • BEST SAVE OF THE PERIOD:

With under two minutes left in the middle frame, Lundqvist denied a one-timer from Johnson with his right pad to keep the game tied at zero.

THIRD PERIOD:

  • WORST MISTAKE:

When Killorn threw a soft backhand on net, the puck leaked through Lundqvist’s pads to give the Lightning the lead.

  • BEST SAVE OF THE THIRD PERIOD:

Cedric Paquette looked poised to score an insurance goal, but Lundqvist’s sprawling pad save kept the Rangers’ season alive.

  • BEST PASS OF THE FINAL FRAME:

Leading a three-on-two rush, Johnson threaded a cross-ice pass to Palat; the left wing beat Lundqvist at 11:17 of the period to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead.

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New York Rangers Game 7 Facts and History

RANGERS GAME 7 NOTES

  • The Rangers are 9-5 all-time in Game 7s and have won their last six Game 7s, which is tied for an NHL record with the Red Wings (1949-64) and Bruins (1983-94).
  • Henrik Lundqvist has won six straight Game 7s, an NHL record. In those games, he has allowed just five goals for a 0.83 GAA, with a .973 SV% with one shutout.
  • Lundqvist’s six Game 7 wins are tied for the most in NHL history with Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy.
  • Alain Vigneault is 5-1 all-time as a coach in Game 7s.
  • Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard and Kevin Kleinare all undefeated in Game 7s played (minimum three games).
  • Lundqvist has the lowest GAA is Game 7 history (minimum of three games played).
  • The Rangers have never lost a Game 7 at home (7-0).
  • The last six Game 7s at The Garden were one-goal wins. Each of the last three and five of the last six were 2-1 wins.
  • The Rangers are the only team in NHL history to have played at least four Game 7s at home and won each contest.
  • The Rangers’ nine all-time wins in Game 7 are tied for fifth among all NHL teams, and their seven all-time wins in Game 7 at home are tied for fourth among all NHL teams.
  • Seven of the Rangers’ last 12 playoff series have gone seven games.
Rangers’ All-Time Game 7s at MSG Rangers’ Last Six Game 7s
1. 1992 Division Semifinals vs. NJD (NYR won 8-4) 1. 2015 Conference Semifinals vs. WSH (NYR won 2-1 in OT)
2. 1994 Conference Finals vs. NJD (NYR won 2-1 in 2 OT) 2. 2014 Conference Semifinals at PIT (NYR won 2-1)
3. 1994 Stanley Cup Final vs. VAN (NYR won 3-2) 3. 2014 Conference Quarterfinals vs PHI (NYR won 2-1)
4. 2012 Conference Quarterfinals vs. OTT (NYR won 2-1) 4. 2013 Conference Quarterfinals at WSH (NYR won 5-0)
5. 2012 Conference Semifinals vs. WSH (NYR won 2-1) 5. 2012 Conference Semifinals vs. WSH (NYR won 2-1)
6. 2014 Conference Quarterfinals vs. PHI (NYR won 2-1) 6. 2012 Conference Quarterfinals vs. Ott (NYR won 2-1)
7. 2015 Conference Semifinals vs. WSH (NYR won 2-1 in OT)

 

GENERAL GAME 7 NOTES

  • Home teams are 94-65 (.591) all-time in Game 7s. The home side is undefeated in Game 7s during the 2015 NHL Playoffs (3-0).
  • The team that scores first is 117-42 all-time (.736).
  • Forty Game 7s have required overtime (40-of-159, 25.2%). In the extra session, it’s an even split — the home team has won 20 times and the road team has won 20 times.

LIGHTNING GAME 7 NOTES

  • Tampa has a 4-1 all-time record in Game 7s.
  • The Lightning has twice played on the road in Game 7 of a playoff series, both in the same postseason. Tampa beat Pittsburgh, 1-0, in the first round of the 2011 NHL Playoffs and lost to the Bruins by the same score in the Eastern Conference Final.
  • In 2004, the Lightning won both the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final in Game 7 (both at home).
  • Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman and Matt Carle are all undefeated in Game 7s (minimum four games played)
  • The Lightning already won a Game 7 this postseason, defeating the Red Wings in the opening round of the playoffs at home.
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Henrik Lundqvist Faces Defining Moment in Game 7 vs. Lightning

 

Where would the Rangers be with average goaltending?

It is a question that Rangers fans haven’t had to ponder in a decade because of the presence of the future Hall of Famer who has patrolled the blue paint since the 2005-06 season. Tuesday night was an outstanding reminder of what life is like when your best player is your goaltender. Henrik Lundqvist continued his remarkable elimination-game play and kept the Blueshirts’ cup dreams alive with a 7-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

From the exterior, a 7-3 score with a .923 save percentage doesn’t project dominance, but sometimes the boxscore doesn’t provide us with the proper context.

While I believe shot metrics provide us with some game context, I like to run those results against my expected goal generator. It essentially removes shooting/goaltending luck to see who is controlling the flow of play based on shot location and pre-shot movement. Tuesday night was the Henrik Lundqvist show. The Rangers led 2-1 through two periods, but in reality they should have been down by two. The reason they weren’t trailing was opportunistic shooting and a dominant performance by the King.

The Lightning held a 7-2 green-shot advantage after two, but the Rangers capitalized on both of their green opportunities. The Lightning were assaulting Lundqvist with quality and quantity, but couldn’t capitalize at even strength. While the Rangers were defying the odds because of their goaltender, the Lightning seemed destined to breakthrough if they continued their assault. As the Bolts continued to push the play, they began taking some more risks and the Rangers began to get odd-man opportunities. Nine of the Rangers’ next 13 shots were of the green variety, with four of them finding the back of the net. After all that, the stage was set for Game 7 at The Garden.

The Rangers are still a very strong team, but they haven’t fully broken free of their reliance on Lundqvist. It is a major luxury to not have to control the play to win playoff games, and, with the mediocre goaltenders remaining in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Rangers just need to maintain close to a 50/50 split in play to truly have a chance to become champions.

While inconsistent through the first three rounds, the Rangers have managed to provide Lundqvist with this opportunity. They were too much for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, but they needed typical Lundqvist brilliance in the second round against the Capitals. Braden Holtby was matching him shot for shot through the first five games. But Holtby couldn’t sustain Lundqvist’s greatness late in the series and the Rangers survived in a last-shot-wins Game 7.

While overall the Rangers have managed to maintain an even flow of play versus Tampa Bay, the peaks and valleys have been extreme. But here we are again with Lundqvist having an opportunity to flex his Game 7 elimination muscles.

The Rangers have some emerging young talent and a strong core, but tonight’s Game 7 is still a must win for this franchise. While Lundqvist is performing at the peak of his ablities, he’s doing so with the benefit of two months of forced rest due to injury. Cam Talbot stepped in admirably and bridged the injury gap, allowing the Rangers to capture the Presidents’ Trophy. With a lightened load because of the limited regular season wear and tear, Lundqvist has been spectacular these playoffs, registering a +.020 above expected SV%.

The benefit of having a trump card like Lundqvist is he gives you a chance when another goaltender goes on a dominant run. While the Rangers outplayed and outchanced the Penguins, they struggled to score against Holtby and still managed to advance despite the fact that Capitals controlled the play in Games 6 and 7. While he has struggled against the Lightning at times, the Rangers have managed to return the favor in the Eastern Conference Final with significant offensive support.

This is the fourth straight postseason of greatness for him and the Rangers need to take advantage of it. As long as the Rangers’ success is directly tied to Lundqvist’s greatness, his age has to become a concern. How much longer can he sustain these spectacular playoff runs? He is approaching an age where goaltenders begin to decline and his reliance on playing at extreme depths so that he can read plays longer will make him vulnerable to any reflex loss as he ages. Lundqvist’s reads are tied to his athleticism, so he isn’t immune to the aging process.

I think Rangers management knows this and it is one of the driving forces behind going all in this season. Their time is now. A rested dominant goaltender and the best supporting cast of his career.

I have been watching these playoffs with a certain urgency because I view  Lundqvist as a generational talent and I don’t want to live in a world where Chris Osgood, Antti Niemi and Marc-Andre Fleury own Stanley Cup rings and the King does not.

Lundqvist is the best goaltender remaining in the playoffs by a considerable margin and if Lundqvist can continue his Game 7 magic against the Lightning, the Conn Smythe Award is his to lose.

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A Total Guide for Rangers Fans Approaching the Most Important Game

 

As we all prepare for THE most important Rangers game of the season Friday night at The Garden, it is important that fans be advised of all possibilities and act accordingly.

And since a victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning will hoist the Blueshirts smack into the Stanley Cup Final, it’s vital to be totally prepared for all eventualities.

With that in mind  I have a detailed check-list for the three most prevalent types of fans — the Optimist, the Pessimist and the Objective One.

Decide which category you’re in, read on and enjoy…

OPTIMISTS: The optimist Rangers fan believes that the Blueshirts are destined to win the Stanley Cup and that’s a good thing. But accentuating the positive will not necessarily bring home the Silver so these points must be kept in mind.

1. IN THE BAG, NO?: Nothing is in the bag until it’s in the bag. While everybody and his Uncle Dudley is predicting a easy Rangers clincher, the game will be played on ice and not in the Fantasy section of one’s brain.

2. BOLTS LIKE MSG: It’s not as if the Lightning shrivel up and become mummified when they walk into The World’s Most Famous Arena. They have won playoff games here before therefore, beware, brother, beware!

3. BISHOP IS NO KNAVE: Tampa goalie Ben Bishop has been drawn and quartered by the media but that does not make him a stilt-walker posing as a goalie. Remember, he blanked the Blueshirts, 2-0, on Seventh Avenue.

4. COOPER NO BLOOPER: Forget that coach Jon Cooper is a Long Islander; that’s a good sidebar. What we’ve learned this series is that he’s a smart cookie, clever enough to have taken his team to a climactic Game 7.

5. BEWARE, RANGERS ALUMNI: Ryan Callahan has found his game and would love to stick it to his ex-team. Ditto Brian Boyle, who came close to beating Henrik Lundqvist last game. Anton Stralman? You know he’s good!

6. TRIPPING THE TRIPLETS: Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov seemed to have disappeared after a Gang Buster series start. Whatever the reason for their sabbatical, it could end very suddenly.

7. BEWARE THE UNDERRATEDS: Players such as left wing Alex Killorn, right wing J.T. Brown and defenseman Andrej Sustr are the kind of “unknowns” just apt to make names for themselves in a showdown contest.

8. CAPTAIN STEVE: While Steven Stamkos hasn’t exactly dominated the series, he is one of the most threatening shooters this side of Rick Nash when the latter is hot. Point is, you can never tell with SS on the ice.

9. THE HEDMAN BUILDING: Towering Victor Hedman is about as good a defenseman as he is tall (6-6, 233). The Super Swede also is good on the rush and not too bad manning the point on the power play. Watch him!

10. SPECIAL TEAMS: The power play and penalty killing has been known to work.


PESSIMISTS: The pessimist Rangers fan remains fearful that; A. Referees will call the game against New York; B. Bad bounces will only afflict the Blueshirts; C. Lady Luck roots for the Lightning. Since all of the aforementioned actually are believed, the following solutions are offered, free of charge:

1. WORLD’S MOST NEVERLOSE ARENA: Forget about the other playoff games. When the pucks — and chips — are down at The Garden, the Rangers win the biggies. The Lightning players know that only too well.

2. THE KING RULES: Sufficiently rested and always there to give the Rangers a chance to win, Henrik Lundqvist gives his mates unlimited confidence. That, in turn, gives the Bolts about this much confidence — 0.

Derick Brassard talks about taking The Garden ice for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final and what the Rangers need to do to take the series against the Bolts.

4. THE WHIZ KIDS: Almost out of nowhere J.T., Miller and Jesper Fast have added pizzazz to an already carbonated offense. The duet is an extra, added attraction not exactly expected to emerge so quickly.

5. LAMPLIGHTER NASH: We’re past the time for questioning The Mountainous Man. Rick Nash now is as big, figuratively, a threat as Steve Stamkos. And bigger, physically, which also counts a lot. Watch out for 61!

6. THE BRASSARD BUSTOUT: Hull, Quebec’s gift to Broadway, Derick Brassard, has blossomed into one of the better trade acquisitions since McDonagh. His hat trick in Game 6 hardly was an aberration.

7. DEPENDABLE DEFENSE: While the Blueshirts back line cannot be compared to The Great Wall of China it’s the most solid of the four surviving playoff teams. McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Keith Yandle, Kevin Klein and Dan Boyle have the goods.

8. YOUNG RED-LIGHTERS: Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and Derek Stepan boast a blend of speed and size to go with their scoring touch. Kreider in particular, plays with an edge that invariably keeps the Bolts, well, on edge.

9. THE BRAIN TRUST: Alain Vigneault and his staff have a track record of success. These comebacks — dating to the rebound against Pittsburgh last year are a product of calm, insightful coaching.

10. THE TRADITION: It’s something to skate for an Original Six club with a pedigree dating back to 1926 and, more recently, one that visited the Cup Final only last spring.


OBJECTIVE FANS: There are none.

I hope this helps. It helped me.

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Rangers Unsung Heroes Must Get a Song

 

As the Rangers prepare to vanquish Tampa Bay Friday night at The Garden, kudos are being well-distributed on Seventh Avenue.

The recipients are the usual suspects and — in this case — well-deserving of thank you bows.

That’s because each of the center-stage heroes valiantly contributed to the Rangers rebound in the Eastern Conference Final, which is knotted at three games. They include the following Game 6 aces:

  • HENRIK LUNDQVIST: He remained dominant and focused when he had to be — until the 7-3 game turned into a runaway. The singular difference between the winners and losers was goaltending. There’s no indication that Tampa’s Ben Bishop will become a Vezina Trophy winner overnight.
  • DERICK BRASSARD: The gifted center admitted that he was a non-factor in Game 5. His hat trick at Amalie Arena — and post-game comments — suggest that he’s thirsting for another big, series-deciding game for himself in the clincher.
  • RICK NASH: All along, The Big Fella’s critics wanted more than good play; they wanted goals and, at last, they are coming at appropriate times. He’s leading his teammates to “The Paint,” where Bishop conveniently gifts them with rebounds — and goals.
  • J.T. MILLER: Last Fall, the game’s bible,The Hockey News, rated the Ohio-born center first among the Blueshirts “Top 10 Prospects.” Miller earned his right to the Rangers, averaging over a point a game in Hartford. J.T.’s performance Tuesday proves that he has fulfilled his NHL notices.

If Miller’s ascent proves anything, it underlines this point; Alain Vigneault‘s stickhandlers are one win away from the Final as much because of the club’s unsung heroes as they are the marquee names such as Lundqvist.

nyr_rangers-brassard_20160218

In the playoffs, any team’s foot soldiers are as important to success as infantry is vital to an army’s successful offensive.

That’s why victory in Game 7 will be as much the responsibility of this Unsung Sextet as the more famous fellows:

1. TANNER GLASS: The Regina, Saskatchewan native has proven to be much more than just a tough hombre. And he is tough in the right places. More than that, the left winger rounds out the fourth line as a utility ace.

2. DOMINIC MOORE: Once written off as a “former NHLer,” Moore’s comeback symbolizes all that’s good about the resilient Rangers. A ubiquitous force, he kills penalties, wins face-offs and remains a constant inspiration.

3. KEVIN KLEIN: Rebounding from injury has been a long, slow process for this two-way defenseman whose shot remains one of the best-kept secrets — except among enemy goalies — in the NHL. His game should continue to improve.

4. JESPER FAST: No Swedish meatball, this unsung ace. If ever there was an unsung skater who deserves the label “Mister Positive Charisma Quotient,” this clever right wing is more than anything — dependable. Considering that he debuted in the NHL this season, his value has orbited in the playoffs more than anyone expected.

5. JAMES SHEPPARD: Talk about an outstanding late-season get. Glen Sather‘s acquisition of the former San Jose Shark has noticeably fortified the Rangers’ balance among the four forward lines. In a clutch contest, as Game 6, Sheppard more than demonstrated his worth.

6. KEITH YANDLE: Once the leading point-getter in Phoenix, this deadline arrival may have come with too big a build-up. And that accounted for a less-than-raucous reception in earlier playoff rounds. But while the accolades are heaped on the Ryan McDonaghDan Girardi duet, a hearty song or two should be warbled in this Boston native’s way.

With an extra day off, the opposing coaches have returned to their drawing boards preparing for the final act.

Let by their articulate leader, Jon Cooper, the Bolts have fooled us before into thinking that they’ll crumble like a broken Legoset. Yet, they’ve come back to make The Garden seem like home.

“We’re going to respond the same way we have every time our backs are against the wall,” Cooper insists. “It’s happened all year.”

Or as Mister Inconclusive Philosopher likes to say, Maybe yes, maybe no. We’ll see.

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The Rangers-Bolts Melodrama Moves Back to the Garden for Its Finale

 

The Rangers’ comeback script never changes; and this time it could catapult them into the Stanley Cup Final for a second spring in a row.

Only one Friday night win will be necessary in this seven-act melodrama that’s thrilling enough to even give a robot the heebie-jeebies, if not the reeling Lightning skaters.

The Bolts already are suffering from rubberitis after being blockbustered, 7-3, Tuesday night at Amalie Arena, thanks in part to Derick Brassard‘s hat trick.

“I had been disappointed with myself in my last game,” said Brassard. “This time, we gave ourselves a chance to win and now we can’t wait to get back to our fans. We’ll go there and have fun.”

The only solace for the exhausted and bewildered Floridians is the unusual extra-day break until the series resumes Friday. The Bolts need the respite a lot more than the Blueshirts.

“We worked all season to get home ice for a Game 7,” added Brassard, “Every time we’re in an elimination game, we show up.”

Once again, this Seventh Avenue Passion Play has a familiar ring.

It features the New Yorkers just barely avoiding being pushed into the playoff abyss, and then climbing back with a vengeance to tie the tourney at three wins apiece.

By defeating the Lightning in Game 6, the Blueshirts once again have obtained a marvelous opportunity to slam-door this series on the Bolts in their Seventh Avenue arena. What a delightful thought!

“I expected our group to give ourselves a chance to win this game,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “And in the third period, we played our best hockey. We didn’t want to sit back and we didn’t.”

The decisive Game 7 for the Eastern Conference Championship starts at 8 PM Friday. If form holds for New York, Vigneault’s skaters eventually will face either Anaheim or Chicago for Lord Stanley’s mug.

The curtain on New York’s latest histrionics went up in the opening frame Tuesday night with a pair of goals. It was another two-period Henrik Lundqvist virtuoso performance from there. The King was as decisive as anyone.

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Lightning forwards came in waves, but Hank was there — focused, acrobatic, determined and as motivated as ever.

“We’ve been in this situation before,” The King noted. “Tampa played good for two periods, but they got anxious in the third. We stayed cool in the third and had confidence.”

Tampa had emptied its tank by the third period and goals by J.T. Miller, James Sheppard, Brassard again and Rick Nash turned a close game into a rout. A real rout that featured the eventual yanking of goalie Ben Bishop.

“Bishop does not move well from his knees,” explained Steve Valiquette during the Rangers Postgame show on MSG.

And in case anyone is interested in knowing what makes the Blueshirts so good at clutch elimination games, Derek Stepan has the answer.

“We find a way to get it done,” Stepan explained, “and we don’t really panic. We play confident and stick to the keys that got us success throughout the year.”

Or, try Carl Hagelin’s analysis of Rangers rebound-ability:

“We’ve been through it before and we have great guys in the room. We knew what it would take. It was just a case of playing our best game.”

It helped that Brassard and Keith Yandle staked New York to a 2-0 first-period lead before Ryan Callahan’s power-play goal pulled one back for the Bolts and made it 2-1 after one stanza.

Although outshot, 16-7 in the opener, AV’s skaters had the better of the play. No surprise, Lundqvist made the stops of the period on Callahan and Steven Stamkos, respectively.

By contrast, Bishop betrayed signs of clumsiness, tightness and uncertainty at the other end. How much his confidence is shot will only be known come Friday night.

What this, of course, means is that there’s still another victory needed by Vigneault’s Army and, so far, no white flag has been hoisted in Tampa Bay.

We’ve learned time and again that there’s no such thing as home-ice advantage unless somehow The Garden ice could be tilted against the Bolts; and that ain’t likely to happen.

Wait a minute, it did happen in the third period of Game 6 in Tampa Bay!

“Now it’s time for Game 7,” concluded Lundqvist, “and we feel good. We show up for the big games.”

Henrik Lundqvist speaks to MSG Networks' John Giannone after making 35 saves in the Rangers' Game 6 win over the Lightning.

Well said. We’ll some learn what the Lightning have to say in rebuttal.


BEST, WORST, MOST UNUSUAL:

FIRST PERIOD

  • WORST PRE-GAME LOSS: The Lightning revealed that Cedric Paquette was injured and would miss Game 6. Paquette had been one of Tampa Bay’s most reliable forwards.
  • BEST EARLY CHANCE: Chris Kreider chipped the puck past a pinching Anton Stralman just seconds into the game. Jesper Fast had a clear lane to the net, but Victor Hedman took the puck off his stick.
  • MOST UNUSUAL FIRST-PERIOD BREAK: With Tampa Bay surging just past the 10-minute mark, Lundqvist ended that attack by losing his mask. When that happens the referees must blow the play dead; which they did. The Bolts were stifled by a traveling mask.
  • BEST SAVE: Lundqvist robs Stamkos with a left-pad kick.
  • WORST PENALTY: Kreider took an unnecessary cross-checking penalty, setting up a Bolts power play and Callahan’ goal.
  • BEST STAT FOR RANGERS: Despite being outshot 16-7, the Blueshirts exited with a 2-1 lead.

SECOND PERIOD:

  • WORST SETBACK FOR THE RANGERS: They went oh-for-two on the power play.
  • BEST SAVE: The King foiled former teammate Brian Boyle by closing his five-hole in time.
  • BEST COMEBACK FROM A CHECK: Dan Girardi was knocked awkwardly into the boards and appeared injured. Instead the Rangers defender returned and continued his strong play.
  • BEST DODGED BULLET: Bishop lost track of a deflection, allowing the puck to skim behind him. His defenseman Jason Garrison pushed the puck into the goalie before a Ranger could put it in.
  • BEST STAT FOR RANGERS: They continued to lead despite being significantly outshot.

THIRD PERIOD: 

  • BEST START: Rangers forechecking almost produced an early goal, but a second offensive resulted in Bishop making an amazing save with his back before Miller potted the puck, making it 3-1.
  • MOST UNUSUAL TURNABOUT: After dominating for two periods, the Lightning significantly fade through the first five minutes of the frame. Before you can say Que Pasa? (what happened?) it was 7-3 for the visitors. Game over.
  • BEST PROSPECT LOOKING FORWARD: Another Game 7 at The World’s Most Famous Arena!
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There’s No Time Like the Present for the Rangers

Al Trautwig, Ron Duguay and Steve Valiquette preview the Rangers' must-win Game 6 against the Lightning in Tampa.

It’s a war; a battle. – Lightning forward Brenden Morrow

The Rangers — at this most critical moment in their season — remind me of an army general addressing the soldiers.

Standing before his troops, the commander shouts, PRESENT ARMS.

And then: FIRE!

Supposedly, the GIs hit their targets; otherwise known as bullseyes; or in hockey, the back of the net.

Confronted by the possibility of playoff elimination Tuesday at Amalie Arena, the Blueshirts certainly have the arms, the arsenal and the firepower.

But will they be translated into goals as they certainly were not during Sunday night’s 2-0 Ben Bishop blanket job at The Garden?

The confounding challenge for Alain Vigneault will be — as it was in Game 5 — converting a dominating half-game performance into red lights.

On Sunday, the Rangers owned the rink up until the thirteen-minute mark of the middle period and it still was 0-0.

“We went after them,” the coach pointed out. “We spent the first thirty-five minutes in their end. We were going. We had two Ds (Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi) up trying to cycle and create some open ice.”

All true and very gratifying; except for the result and AV explained precisely why the final score made him feel lower than the Broadway #1 Local at Manhattan’s 168th Street station.

“The Lightning did a great job of defending, blocking lanes and blocking shots,” added AV. “All of that made it really challenging for us.”

All true, again, but Vigneault must devise a system equated to the one that produced a 5-1 New York win in Game Four at Tampa Bay.

In the spirit of accentuating the positive — and expecting a Rangers win down South — consider the following:

  • J.T.MILLER: The kid has come around and should be able to reignite Rick Nash and Derick Brassard.
  • HENRIK LUNDQVIST: No kidding; this is the biggest game of his career – and why not? – which means we can expect the best goaltending he can muster.
  • ROAD RESPITE: In this Game 6 situation, playing away from The Big Apple is the best thing for the Seventh Avenue Skaters. Pressure actually is lessened; more on the home club.
  • STRATEGY: Only a bit of tinkering is necessary to exploit the Bolts defense. On Sunday, the Rangers were guilty of trying to cut it too fine and too deliberate, especially on the power play.
  • THE LAW OF AVERAGES: Chris Kreider-Derek StepanJesper Fast suffered an off-night at home. That trio has been a key to many Rangers wins. They’re due for a biggie thereby keeping the club alive for Game 7.

Not that the Blueshirts should expect much cooperation from their hosts. Ex-Rangers Brian Boyle — playing more and more like a Bobby Holik — and Ryan Callahan each have regained their grooves.

“The Rangers,” noted Boyle, “will be a desperate team which means that we have to match their desperation.”

There will be no difference in the quality of motivation in either locker room, although the opposition coaches are miles apart when it comes to further immediate air travel.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper can do without airline points at this juncture of the season.

“I just don’t want to get on a plane again (and head back to New York),” Cooper concluded. “Everybody in my clubhouse would love not to have to get on a plane again for a while.”

We’ll soon learn what the Rangers can do about forcing a change in Cooper’s travel plans.

Every citizen of Rangerville knows darn well that few teams can duplicate what the New Yorkers did last year against Pittsburgh and this spring to Washington.

With that in mind, I can say that AV’s skaters have the Bolts where they want them.

Or to put it as succinctly as possible, for the Rangers winning a game, there’s no time like the present!

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Rangers Theme — We Did It Before, We Can Do It Again!

 

The smell of Stanley Cup champagne remains six wins away for the Rangers.

And that ain’t good.

The other indisputable fact is that to reach that playoff plateau, there’s a matter of beating the Lightning two more times.

And that ain’t good either.

While the Blueshirts have proven to be comeback kids before, their task on Tuesday night at Amalie Arena has suddenly moved into the do-or-die category now that Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop has refound his game, blanking New York, 2-0, on Sunday night at The Garden.

Alas, the Bolts can close out the Eastern Conference Final at home. Then again, one can say the Rangers are just where they want to be; facing elimination so that they can execute one of the traditional breathless comebacks.

That’s because the Lightning won’t go away quietly, despite being heavily outplayed in the first half of Game 5. But the key Bolts hung tough and Bishop’s ability to rebound was as good as it had to be.

“We bent in the first half of the game,” explained Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, “but we didn’t break.”

Undaunted, the New Yorkers now must do what, historically, they’ve done so well before — counterattack and win.  They did it last spring when down 1-3 in games to the Pittsburgh Penguins and this playoff campaign when they rallied from a similar deficit against the Washington Capitals.

“We have no other choice,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “If we lose, we’re done. We have no other game to save it for; and I don’t think that this [Game 5] there was a lack in our play; just a few things need to clean up.”

Thing Number One that needs immediate sanitizing is the Rangers’ power play, which went oh-for-four. Meanwhile, the Lightning made good on one of three power-play opportunities. Stamkos got the goal with man advantage for Tampa Bay at 18:22 of the middle frame, while Valtteri Filppula had the opening goal for the visitors at 13:29.

“Our penalty kill took the air out of them,” said Stamkos. “They responded just as [Bishop] responded.”

Based on the Rangers’ first-period domination in every area but goal-scoring, it was difficult to imagine that the Blueshirts would fail to eventually find a lamplighter.

“We created enough to get a couple of goals,” said Rangers backliner Marc Staal. “Then they come down on a rush and took the lead from us. It happens.”

It happened on the first goal because Tanner Glass overplayed a Tampa stretch pass and got caught too high in the neutral zone. Bolts defender — ex-Ranger — Anton Stralman banked his pass off the boards on to Stamkos’ stick. The winning goal further developed when the captain fed Filppula in the slot. His shot banked off the post making it virtually impossible for Henrik Lundqvist to make the save.

“We’ve had a lot of good second periods,” Filppula observed. “This time we got a couple and played with the lead.”

The pendulum emphatically swung the Lightning’s way from that goal onwards. While the Rangers generated offense after the Bolts’ goals, the New York attackers were cut off at the pass.

“They had better numbers,” added Staal, “and they were blocking shots. We had a hard time getting shots through to Bishop.”

After the Rangers’ 5-1 triumph in Florida, it appeared that the stage was set for New York to grab a stranglehold on the series; especially after both Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis together scored three goals between them– two for Nash — in Tampa Bay.

Neither of the pair did anything in the way of adding momentum and were virtually negated by the tenacious Bolts checking. Finding an outstanding Rangers forward was difficult after the first period.

“The Lightning did a good job of defending,” said Alain Vigneault. “Our power play had been getting us some momentum, but it was slow [Sunday] and that hurt it.

Alain Vigneault holds his postgame press conference after the Rangers' 2-0 Game 5 loss to the Lightning.

“On Tuesday, we have to play our best game of the year and execute. We went after them in the first period. We were trying to get open ice and I have to give [the Lightning] a lot of credit.”

AV can start his crediting with the Bolts’ penalty-killers, who dominated every combination the Rangers threw into the fray against Bishop.

“For us,” Bishop insisted, “the penalty kill came up huge. Obviously, we weren’t happy with the last few games. The penalty kill [Sunday] kept us in it.”

WHAT THE BLUESHIRTS NEED TO DO TO STAY ALIVE IN THE SERIES TUESDAY:

  • SPECIAL TEAMS MUST IMPROVE:

On both the power play and penalty kill, the Rangers must do better. Their power play could not convert and the Lightning scored on their man advantage. A repeat of Tampa’s Sunday special-team advantage could block the Rangers’ road to the Final round.

  • BOTHER BISHOP:

After looking shaky and allowing five goals in Game 4, Bishop appeared calm and confident. The Blueshirts only mustered 26 shots and most of them were from the outside. For a different result, they will need to crowd the big goalie’s crease and force him to look around screens.

  • BIG PLAYERS HAVE TO PLAY BIGGER:

Nash and St. Louis were sadly silent and the oft-dangerous Chris Kreider was neutralized in Game 5. The Rangers’ biggest offensive players will have to produce when their team needs them most. And that goes for Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard and Kevin Hayes have to emerge from the Sunday cocoon and score.

nyr_tbl_stan_20150525_2

  • DEFENSE NEEDS TO STAND UP AT THE BLUE LINE:

The Floridians have generated offense by carrying the puck into the offensive zone and then making a cross-ice pass. If the Rangers’ defense can stop that play, the Tampa offense will be deflated.

  • GET OFF TO A GOOD START:

At big moments in the playoffs, the Rangers have scored early and seized momentum. Playing in front of the Lightning’s home crowd, it will be imperative to get off to a good start and take the home-ice advantage away from Tampa.

“I have a lot of faith and trust in my players,” Vigneault concluded. “I’m confident we’ll be ready for it.”

Hey, all the Blueshirts need are two wins.

The solution to that can be found in the same game plan that enabled the series wins over Pittsburgh in 2014 and Washington this Spring.

Or, the theme, We did it before and we can do it again — and we will do it again!


THE BEST, WORST AND MOST UNUSUAL

FIRST PERIOD:

  • WORST MISSED OPPORTUNITY OF THE FIRST PERIOD:

Just minutes into the game, St. Louis had two clean chances to score; he was first foiled by a bouncing puck while Bishop smothered the second attempt.

  • BEST SHIFT OF THE FIRST PERIOD:

At the 15-minute mark, the Rangers’ fourth line kept the Bolts pinned in their own zone for nearly a minute. They could only break the pressure by icing the puck, forcing Jon Cooper to burn his time out.

  • BEST TEAM IN THE OPENING FRAME:

The score board may have read 0-0 after one, but the Rangers looked better than their opponents in all situations. They outshot the Lightning 6-4 and carried most of the play.

  • WORST POWER-PLAY ATTEMPT: 

The Bolts were totally disorganized and the Rangers had better threats than Tampa.

  • FIRST-PERIOD CONCLUSION:

The Rangers’ attack was consistently coordinated and sharp. Blueshirts controlled the boards in the Tampa zone and in their own. Lightning’s attempt to clear their zone were often blunted by the Rangers. The only Rangers minus; they went 0-for-2 on power plays.

SECOND PERIOD:

  • BEST SECOND-PERIOD SAVE:

Barely two minutes after the intermission, Keith Yandle turned the puck over in his own end; Stamkos corralled the biscuit in the slot, only for his wrister to be snagged by Lundqvist’s glove

nyr_tbl_stan_20150525_1

  • MOST UNUSUAL NON-CALL OF THE SECOND:

About four minutes into the stanza, both Dominic Moore and Ryan Callahan high-sticked each other. The play was blown dead, but neither player was penalized.

  • MOST CONSPICUOUS ABSENCE

Despite surging in the past three games, the Blueshirts’ power play was silent on four attempts in the first two periods. To make matters worse, the Lightning found the back of the net on their second man-advantage of the game.

  • BEST PASS OF THE MIDDLE PERIOD:

With 13 minutes gone in the frame, Stralman banked the puck off the boards into the path of Stamkos. He then fed Filppula, who beat Lundqvist for the game’s first goal.

  • SECOND-PERIOD CONCLUSION: Rangers dominated the first half but had nothing to show for it. Tampa Bay proved opportunistic on both goals although Rangers led on total shots on goal for two periods, 16-15 Rangers. But the Bolts came on stronger in the period.

THIRD PERIOD:

  • BEST SHOT-BLOCKING EFFORT:

With the Rangers chasing the game in the second half of the final frame, both Callahan and Brian Boyle threw themselves in front of Rangers shooters to protect their goaltender.

  • BEST SAVE OF THE THIRD PERIOD:

When the Rangers were throwing everything at Bishop in the final five minutes of the stanza, Nikita Kucherov launched a counter-attack; he nearly ended the game, but Lundqvist denied his wrist shot.

  • BEST VIGNEAULT ANSWER TO WHAT IT TAKES TO WIN TWO IN A ROW:

“Both teams are looking for that answer.”

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Rangers Should Tighten the Bolts Tonight

I felt pretty good, but obviously I’ve got to make a save here and there. — Lightning goalie Ben Bishop after Game 4.

We’ve got a lot to clean up.– Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman after Game 4

As the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers prepare for the most important game of the tied-at-two Eastern Conference Final at The Garden tonight, the onus is on one player more than any other.

Much more.

That’s Ben Bishop, guardian of the Bolts pipes.

And when Very Big Ben says that he has “to make a save here and there,” it ranks with the largest understatement since Commissioner Gary Bettman said, “We need a Salary Cap.”

Never in his two-year full-time NHL career has Bishop faced so daunting a challenge as he will in Game 5. That’s because BB was sub-sub-par in the critical Game 4.

nyr_tbl_game5_preview_stan_hank-saves_20150521

If Double B is going to get help, it will have to be from more than the Lightning’s best defender, ex-Ranger Anton Stralman.

Because Bishop’s game has disintegrated and his backliners — apart from Stralman — do not appear up to the task, the stage is set for a Rangers rumble right into the Final Cup round.

Here’s why:

SAINTLY ST. LOUIS: Suddenly Marty St. Louis not only scored in Game 4 but has regained his confidence. He sees renewed assurance in his teammates as well.

“We played with some swagger in Game 4,” St. Louis said, “and we want to keep that going at The Garden. We fought to get that swagger back when we didn’t have it.”

NIMBLE NASH: It wasn’t so much that Rick Nash put New York ahead with a classic down-the-boards-past-the-Bolts-defender goal, it was the confident manner in which he slipped the biscuit past Bishop. Then, added another score a bit later.

“Hopefully,” said Nash, “we can ride some momentum, gain confidence and play with it.”

YIPPEE YANDLE: While the Lightning’s power play blacked out into nothingness, the Rangers PP carbonated into key goals with Keith Yandle handling the point with perfection.

“We’ve got confidence in the power play,” Yandle enthused. “We’re able to capitalize on it. Right now I feel at my best and most comfortable. It’s coming together for me.”

CRAFTY COUNSELING: You could call Benoit Allaire  the Rangers “Secret Weapon.” He’s the club’s you-never-see goalie coach and — if you ask Henrik Lundqvist — the man who helped revive The King’s winning style after the 6-5 loss in Game 3.

Lundqvist: “It meant a lot to me — when I was under a lot of pressure — to have someone (like Allaire) to talk to and get guidance. Benoit is probably the best goalie coach in the world to talk to about a situation (two six-goals-against games) like that.”

Let’s not kid ourselves, the series is tied because King Henrik out-goaled The Bishop by a Tampa Mile. No more, no less.

Bishop’s less-than-airtight play prompted a reporter to ask coach Jon Cooper if he contemplated resting his starting goalie for Game Five. The query inspired a tart reply from the usually gregarious mentor.

“I’ll look at you like you have five heads,” said Cooper. “How’s that? No change.”

After adding that he has confidence in Bishop, the coach offered what could only be described by the Lightning side as the perfect squelch:

“I understand your question,” Cooper asserted. “For someone to sit here and say are we changing (in) goal? That is asinine to me.”

As for Lundqvist, let’s not forget that he had some help in Game 4. His buddies had a much better collective effort in the neutral zone and back pressure was very good.

nyr_tbl_game5_preview_stan_20150524

As my pal with the Argus eyes, Gus Vic, noticed, “The Bolts speed game largely was kept in check approaching the Rangers zone. If this can be maintained tonight their chances to win the series go up significantly.”

Then again, there’s the Lightning side to consider. Coach Jon Cooper figured that — based on second period chances — his club should have annexed Game 4.

“In a period like that,” Cooper asserted, “nine times out of ten you’re coming out with the lead, probably by multiple goals.

“On the other hand, the Rangers had some breaks — and I give them credit — they made the best of them and we didn’t make the best of ours.”

Pesky Tyler Johnson, hero of other Tampa wins, not only didn’t score but took an unpenalized stick-tweak from Kevin Hayes that had him wincing for a while.

“Sometimes you get the bounces,” said Johnson, who plays hockey in the Mats Zuccarello style, “and sometimes you don’t. We just have to suck it up and move on.”

After 60 minutes — maybe more — of Sunday night hockey at MSG we’ll know if there’s anything left in Tampa’s tank. And whether the Nash-St. Louis duet can continue singing sweet goal tunes.

At least one member of the Florida media is questioning Bishop’s goaltending and Tampa’s defensive breakdowns compared to Rangers successes.

“Nash is scoring,” concluded the Tampa Tribune’s columnist Martin Fennelly, “Lundqvist is saving and maybe even Marty St. Louis is back. Is any of this good news?”

You bet it is — for the New York Rangers!

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