Tonight the Rangers are going to need to find a way to win an elimination game on the road for the second time in the 2015 Playoffs. After falling 2-0 in Game 5 at the Garden, the thought of winning two straight games against the Lightning seems like an unreasonably difficult task for a Rangers team that has struggled with a streaky offense (and power play).
Mats Zuccarello traveled with the team to Florida but he is not in the discussion for the Rangers' Game 6 roster. It's worth mentioning that he traveled with the team for Game 3 and Game 4 in Tampa. So, there will be no heroic return for Zuccarello who has so often been a key cog in the engine that is the Rangers' offense. Instead our attention will turn to what players like Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, Kevin Hayes, and JT Miller can do to generate and finish on scoring chances.
So, how is the team handling this immense amount of pressure? Quite well, actually.
"I just think our group, we just go out and play. We find a way to get it done. We don't really panic, we don't really find anything to get down on ourselves. We play confident; we stick to the keys that let us be successful during the year." -Derek Stepan
With Henrik Lundqvist's record in recent elimination games and the club's almost superhuman ability to play at their very best when it matters most, it should come as no surprise that the Rangers feel confident heading into tonight's Game 6. It is, however, infuriating to watch the Rangers continue to put themselves in this position and make things harder than they have to be. The effort in Game 5 just wasn't enough to stop Tampa's scoring machine or to get a puck past Bishop, the same goalie the Blueshirts had scored 5 goals against in Game 4.
Tonight's game will be all about special teams, scoring chances, puck discipline, and the men who wear masks. A confident Ben Bishop is not what the Rangers want to see tonight, but given that he put up a 26 save shutout at the Garden Monday night, that is exactly who the Rangers have to face tonight at Amalie Arena. Hank will have to do everything he can to keep the Rangers alive tonight. Winning the goaltender battle might not be enough, tonight the Rangers just might need Henrik to steal them the game to send this series back to the Garden for Game 7. We've seen unforgettable performances by Lundqvist in elimination games over the years, hopefully we'll get to see at least one more tonight in Game 6.
For the Rangers the focus is on playing their game and getting the win tonight and not allowing themselves to linger on the thought that a loss means the Cup run coming to an end. The playoff experience in the Rangers' locker room is remarkable. Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin have played in more playoff games for the Rangers than Mark Messier has and Marc Staal and Dan Girardi have have played in more playoff games for the Blueshirts than Brian Leetch has.
This team knows what it takes to win these games. Call it heart, call it grit, call it luck, or call it anything you want, whatever that hidden trait is the Rangers have had it in spades in their recent history. Surely they can't come back from the brink again, can they? Is there any more magic left? Can they force a Game 7 in back-to-back series? I suppose we will all find out tonight at 8 PM.
Let's go Rangers.