Henrik Lundqvist gazes after Steven Stamkos beats him for a goal to put the Lightning up 2-0.
For the Rangers, it’s Season on the Brink, Part II.
They managed to win three straight elimination games in the second round to advance to this Eastern Conference final, but with a 2-0 Game 5 loss to the Lightning at Madison Square Garden Sunday night, the Rangers will need to win two more to stay alive as they trail the series 3-2.
Valtteri Filppula and Steven Stamkos each scored in the second period. Ben Bishop, who had come under scrutiny after allowing five goals in each of the previous two games, made 26 saves to earn the shutout. The Rangers went 0-for-4 on the power play and were held goalless for the first time since Game 3 of the second round.
The Rangers had dominated play for roughly the first half of the game but had nothing to show for it. Rick Nash, who had the first multi-goal playoff game of his career in Game 4, had the puck on a three-on-two shorthanded chance but had a shot from the right wing turned away by Bishop’s right pad at 8:40 of the first period. There were only 10 total shots in the first period, which was the first goalless period since the first period of the series in Game 1.
Tampa Bay was nearly gift-wrapped a lead early in the second when Keith Yandle, who Alain Vigneault said Saturday had recently been playing the best he’d seen him with the puck since he was acquired at the trade deadline, backhanded a pass deep in his own zone right into open space for Stamkos, whose left-circle shot went directly into Lundqvist’s glove.
The Rangers had two unsuccessful power plays in the middle of the period after two in the first. They had scored two power-play goals in each of the previous three contests. The Rangers had been controlling the play throughout until Filppula beat Lundqvist (20 saves) stick-side from the inner edge of the right circle. Ex-Ranger Anton Stralman played a pass up the right boards that got by Tanner Glass and connected with Stamkos. He centered for Filppula for the wrist shot.
That goal came against the run of play but changed the game for the rest of the period. Tampa Bay dictated the pace and spent much of the remainder of the period in the Rangers’ zone.
Marc Staal took his second penalty of the game at 17:04, a tripping infraction that led to the Lightning’s second goal. It was a tic-tac-toe play from Nikita Kucherov to Ondrej Palat to Stamkos, who was wide open at the top of the crease near the right post for a one-timer. Dan Girardi dropped down to try to block a potential shot from Kucherov, who sent a cross-ice pass right-to-left to Palat, and his pass went into the slot to set up Stamkos. The Lightning captain has scored in four straight games and has seven points (four goals, three assists) in the series.
Kreider inexplicably floated the puck into the seats from behind his goal line at 2:51 of the third period to take a delay-of-game penalty, but fortunately for the Rangers, Tampa Bay was unable to capitalize on the egregious error.
Stepan was left a drop pass in the high slot by Nash but his shot was well off target at 6:34. J.T. Miller’s rifled shot from the left circle was saved by Bishop after Dan Boyle pulled up along the left side and passed to a charging Miller.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper had essentially guaranteed Sunday morning that former Rangers captain Ryan Callahan would score his first goal of the playoffs in the building where he “grew up as a hockey player.” That prediction didn’t come to fruition, but Cooper will take the win any way it comes.
It leaves the Rangers in the familiar position of being on the brink of elimination. They trailed the Washington Capitals 3-1 in their second-round series but became the first team in NHL history to overcome 3-1 series deficits in consecutive seasons after doing so against Pittsburgh last season.
The Rangers will need even more grace under fire in Tuesday’s Game 6 in Tampa, or they’ll be watching the Stanley Cup Final from their couches.
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