TAMPA – Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said they will have to play at a higher level to eliminate the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final at Amalie Arena on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
The Lightning lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 after a 2-0 win in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. They eliminated the Detroit Red Wings in seven games in the first round and the Montreal Canadiens in six games in the second round. Cooper, however, said those series were different.
"I don't think you can treat this like any other game," Cooper said. "There are only four teams left, and we put ourselves in a position to advance. Now we have to raise the bar a little bit higher; we know the Rangers are going to, so we have to match that. But I think our confidence level is where we know we can do that."
The Lightning's confidence should have grown after shutting down the Rangers' power play Sunday. The Rangers had scored six power-play goals in the previous three games, but they were 0-for-4 with the man-advantage in Game 5.
"Special teams just gets magnified in the playoffs," Cooper said. "Usually the team that wins the special teams wars has a good percentage of winning the games. We did that [Sunday] much like the Rangers did that the game before. Our PK has been solid all year, and I think the guys took it to heart that they had been getting scored on."
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and forward Alex Killorn, playing with center Valtteri Filppula, have been on a scoring surge since the start of the second-round series against the Canadiens, giving the Rangers another scoring line to be concerned about in addition to the "Triplets," Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. Stamkos has scored a goal in each of the past four games, including his power-play goal in Game 5 to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead with 1:38 remaining in the second period.
Cooper said Stamkos' scoring is a result of his work ethic and his dedication to playing hard on each end of the ice.
"The reason he didn't score against Detroit...he was putting himself in great positions, he was leading the team in shots, he was leading the team in chances, and the puck just wasn't going in," Cooper said. "And he was probably putting too much pressure on himself. All of sudden he was doing other things with his game, which he's always done.
"Now he's getting recognized for his well-rounded game, and now the goals are coming, and everyone's saying, '[Stamkos] is back.' Well, he's always been there. Our captain's been leading us, just in different ways. I'm fired up he's scoring because he deserves it. He's put himself in position to be rewarded."