Rangers relying on playoff resilience for Game 6 to extend Eastern Final

TAMPA — The New York Rangers arrived here Friday with a fresh outlook on where they stand in the Eastern Conference Final even though they were less than 24 hours removed from feeling like the world was closing in on them.

The Rangers lost 3-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden on Thursday to fall behind 3-2 in the best-of-7 series.

Game 6 is at Amalie Arena (8 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, CBC, SN, TVAS) on Saturday.

“You lose that game last night, you drive home and you want to jump over the bridge,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “You feel bad about it. It’s a tough game that could have went either way. It happens. This morning, you wake up, you get back at it and say, ‘We’ve got a big game tomorrow, we’re going to Tampa.’ And you say, ‘Well, we’re in a pretty good position. There are three teams left in the NHL playoffs and we’re one of them.’ You’ve got to be happy with that. You’ve got to look at the bright side of it. You’ve got to get ready for another game. You can’t put your head down and worry about last night because then you’re done.

“You get on the plane at 12 o’clock and that was the end of last night.”

That kind of perspective comes from experience, of which the Rangers have gained plenty already in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Game 6 will be the sixth time this postseason that they’ve faced elimination. They are 5-0 so far, including 2-0 on the road.

They were down 3-1 in the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They were down 3-2 in the second round against the Carolina Hurricanes.

“We all play hockey because we’re extremely competitive people and we love a challenge and we love the difficulties that come with playing the game,” Rangers forward Barclay Goodrow said. “No matter where you are in the series, when you look at it it’s just one game. You can’t control anything past this game. You can’t control anything that’s happened previously in this series. All we need to focus on is going out there and winning one game. Especially our group, we are playing our best when we’re having fun, when we’re rooting for each other and being good teammates. Just going out there and playing the game, that’s kind of what we resorted back to the first couple rounds and it’s done the job for us. It just comes down to winning one game. It’s not anything crazy.”

[Complete Rangers vs. Lightning series coverage]

It is challenging, though.

The Lightning are the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. They are 3-1 when they have a chance to eliminate an opponent in Game 6 of a series since the start of the 2020 playoffs. They’ve gone to Game 7 in only two of their 10 straight series wins.

Andrei Vasilevskiy has an NHL-record six shutouts in potential series-clinching games and has allowed one goal in his last three.

Simply put, Tampa Bay is just a different animal than Pittsburgh and Carolina right now.

“But, honestly, we’re completely confident in our group,” Goodrow said. “We feel if we play our best then we like our chances. Regardless of what [Vasilevskiy’s] numbers say or what their team numbers are, it comes down to us playing our game and us executing to the best of our abilities and having a good time doing it.”

The Rangers have not had much fun in the past three games, all losses by a combined 10-4 score after they won Games 1 and 2 by a combined 9-4.

They have scored one goal at even strength since scoring eight in the first two games.

Gallant said he’s thinking of making some tactical changes for Game 6.

He changed the lineup in Game 5 to get more speed in the forward group, scratching Ryan Reaves and leaving Kevin Rooney even though Ryan Strome was coming back. Rooney drew into the lineup in Game 4 because Strome’s lower-body injury prevented him from playing.

But the Rangers still managed only 25 shots on goal and couldn’t use their speed to generate chances off the rush, their bread and butter.

That will be a focal point for how they want to attack the Lightning in Game 6.

“Just be a little bit quicker in everything that we do,” center Mika Zibanejad said. “When they get to get into their structure, they’re good. We just have to try to find a way to play a little bit faster, a little bit more north. That’s been our game basically all year.”

That means Zibanejad has to start winning the matchup he and his linemates, Chris Kreider and Frank Vatrano, are going to face all game.

The Lightning’s second line of Anthony Cirelli, Brandon Hagel and Alex Killorn has effectively shut down Zibanejad’s line at 5-on-5 the past three games.

“It’s a new opportunity,” Zibanejad said. “It’s going to be obviously a challenge, but a fun one. Talk about enjoy it, I don’t think anyone would think it would be as much fun if it wasn’t a challenge, if it wasn’t tough, if you don’t go through those ups and downs. It’s another test for us. Just got to be ready for it.”

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