The Rangers played much better in game five than they did in game four. It wasn’t good enough.
Ondrej Palat continued to come up big for Tampa Bay as he scored the go ahead goal with less than two minutes remaining to lead the Lightning to a 3-1 win in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden last night.
Palat, who scored the winning goal in game three with less than a minute remaining, was credited with the game winner after a shot from defenseman Mikhail Sergachev deflected off his leg and into the net.
Brandon Hagel completed the scoring with an empty net goal with 59 seconds left as the Lightning took a three games to two lead and can clinch a trip to their third straight Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night in game six.
“I thought we played well enough to win, it didn’t go our way,” Head Coach Gerard Gallant lamented after a bitter disappointment.
“We’ve been down three two every series so far,” Andrew Copp said. “We’re going to have to have a level of desperation. The confidence of doing it before is bigger and better than having to do it again. There’s a belief in the room.”
The Rangers were better in the neutral zone and got more offensive zone time than the previous game. but they didn’t get enough bodies in front of Vasilevskiy.
Igor Shesterkin made 26 saves but on both of their five on five goals, Tampa Bay got bodies in front of the Ranger goaltender and made it difficult for him to see the shots.
Vasilevskiy, who made 24 saves, had some key stops in the latter part of the third period as he continued to frustrate the Rangers.
Ryan Lindgren, who was arguably the Rangers’ best player in this one, had a chance at the side of the net but Vasilevskiy made the stop. A few moments later, Kevin Rooney was in the slot but the Lightning goaltender made that save.
With about 5:30 minutes remaining, the Rangers’ had their best scoring opportunity. Andrew Copp was down low and just missed connecting on a back hand pass with Ryan Strome, who was back in the lineup. The Ranger center was on the left side with a wide open net but he couldn’t get to the pass. “There’s chances everywhere. Whether it was the last five minutes of the game or the first five minutes of the game, it doesn’t matter,” Copp said of the prime scoring chance late in the third period.
Filip Chytil returned to the lineup but Ryan Reaves was a healthy scratch as Gallant changed up the lineup.
There was a point in the third period where it looked like Kappo Kakko was held but there was no call. However, Gallant wouldn’t take the bait to criticize the officials. “They [officials] let the teams play but I thought we could’ve had a couple of more [power plays], no doubt. Rangers were 0 for 1 with the man advantage.
A scoreless first period set the tone for a defensive struggle and it appeared that whichever team got the first goal would be in an advantageous position.
After Tampa Bay’s Zach Bogosian threw the puck around the left wing boards Lindren retrieved it. The Ranger defenseman took a few strides and fired a shot from a bad angle that got past Vasilevskiy for an unassisted goal and a 1-0 lead at 10:29 of the second period.
As has been their wont this post season, the two time defending Stanley Cup champs have been able to score late in the period.
Sergachev played the puck off the right wing boards and moved to the slot where he fired a shot towards the Ranger net. There were numerous bodies in front of Shesterkin who couldn’t see the rubber that landed in the net and the game was tied at one on Sergachev’s unassisted tally.
This was anyone’s game until late in the third, something the Rangers will fall back on as their season will be on the line on Saturday night in Tampa Bay.
“It’s not like we’re getting the doors blown off,” Jacob Trouba said. “We’re in these games, we’re right there, they’re tight games. As much as that stings now, you can look at that and know that you’re right there. You can go to Tampa, you can win a game.”
The Rangers find themselves in familiar territory, down three games to two as they had been in the two previous series.
They’re 5-0 in elimination games in this post season but can they keep going to the well of resilience and win game six and force a seventh game. “It seems like we play our best hockey when our backs are against the wall,” Lindgren said.
“That’s the goal now, take it one game at a time,” Trouba said. “Gotta go to Tampa and win a game.”