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Handy Dandy Playoff Notebook: Home is Where the Heart Is?

  • The New York Rangers are still two wins away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, and will look to rebound from their second loss this series as they take the ice tonight at Madison Square Garden.
  • I was pretty positive ahead of Game 4, and truly felt that the team would take a hard look at the missed opportunity that was Game 3 and would take the bull by the horns.
  • Well... about that...
  • I can joke about it over 24 hours removed in hindsight, but in reality I should have seen it coming, but I guess I was a bit too optimistic.
  • The Rangers lost, and in the process have let Tampa back into the series, and it has fans looking back to the events of Game 3 when the Rangers had a 2-0 lead and it seemed like they’d win the game and put the two-time defending champs in an 0-3 series hole.
  • But that didn’t happen, and here we are with the Rangers back on home ice, in familiar territory, looking to push onward in a tied series. It is something that’s all too familiar, and even more so than I initially realized.
  • The good news is that the Rangers are 8-1 on home ice in the playoffs, with the one loss being the triple overtime game vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins in round one, and there will be two more home games if the series goes 6 games. Ideally the Rangers win tonight and close the Lightning out at Amalie Arena on Saturday evening, but let us still take one game at a time.
  • The biggest question marks ahead of tonight’s game are the health of Ryan Strome and Filip Chytil. Strome missed Game 4 with an injury, and Chytil left the game late in the second period and did not return for the third.
  • Chytil’s been one of the most consistent forwards throughout the playoffs, and Strome’s put up decent numbers on the second line. The loss of both is a big problem for the Rangers, and unfortunately I don’t see the team making the changes they should in the event they are out.
  • Footspeed, tenacity on the forecheck, and endurance has been lacking as of late, and it is understandable because of how many games the team has played. It is a young team for the most part, and this many playoff games after a regular season is something that takes adjusting too.
  • It is for that reason why I think a fourth-line revamp should be in order, and Gerard Gallant should load up his top two lines to force Jon Cooper to burn out his top two defense pairs.
  • I expect none, or very little, of this to happen... but I think this gives the team a better shot of pushing Tampa Bay and getting a win in Game 5. When the Rangers are pushing the pace and dictating terms they are one of the best in the league.
  • Some of the struggles could very well be a matchup thing, some of it is also needlessly giving away offensive opportunities like deploying the fourth line in the offensive zone... but the fact remains is that there are opportunities to make changes. And having home ice helps, but the Rangers don’t want to be in a position where they are hanging their hat on that advantage.
  • They’ve let Tampa Bay off the mat once, and if they are able to take a 3-2 lead by winning Game 5, they need to go for the knockout punch in Game 6.
  • I will fully admit that there’s a sense of selfishness right now, in that this team has exceeded all expectations. A trip to the Cup Final would be great... even though a juggernaut awaits the winner of the Eastern Conference Final. But even with that said, when you come this far you don’t want to waste the opportunity.
  • This roster is young, is going to get better, and will change in the offseason, but there’s an opportunity here and now. Sometimes it is hard to remember that, and it is a lot harder to do that when the team went five years without making the postseason.
  • With all of that said... I was positive before Game 4. I am feeling positive again with the team back on home ice, but my one hope is that they show signs of life and intensity, and don’t sit back and be reactive instead of proactive like they were for the majority of Game 4.
  • Essentially it is now or never, and hopefully the Rangers are true to their word, they understand the urgency, and come out as the hungrier team.