The Tampa Bay Lightning have won 61 times over the course of 100 regular and Stanley Cup Playoff games. If they win in the 101st, they'll be playing in the Stanley Cup Final and the Presidents' Trophy winners will be home for the summer.
That's something of a surprise considering the New York Rangers won Game 4 in Tampa in impressive fashion and had all the momentum coming back home for Game 5, but I think the Lightning realized this was a game they had to win. Coach Jon Cooper got the importance of Game 5 across to his players and they came out flying, and for some reason I don't think the Rangers matched that intensity. The Rangers played well, but the Lightning were just a little bit better.
The Rangers had some great looks and chances, but they just couldn't score first. If you let a team like the Lightning hang around with their firepower, that will hurt you. New York couldn't score and then suddenly Steven Stamkos makes a great pass to Valtteri Filppula, and it's 1-0. These two teams have looked so evenly matched that intensity is a big part of winning. Now Stamkos is flying, the "Triplets" are flying, and the penalty kill has done a superb job. All of that has given the Lightning a chance to wrap up the Eastern Conference Final on home ice.
THE PERFECT KILL
One of the biggest reasons Tampa Bay won Game 5, maybe the biggest reason, is that its penalty kill was phenomenal. Cooper said afterward that the Rangers' power plays actually gave the Lightning momentum because they killed them so effectively.
As you watched, you could see that the Lightning were hanging back and blocking shots rather than attacking the puck. I think a lot of that was just trying to help out goalie Ben Bishop a little bit. He hadn't played a great game the previous two times out, and Cooper knew it was important to prevent him from seeing any great shots. He didn't have many tough chances to deal with in Game 5, and that wasn't just good for the final score, but it will probably help Bishop's confidence going forward.
If Bishop had faced any early odd-man rushes, that might have made his night more difficult. It was clear from the start that Tampa Bay was much more careful defensively, particularly on the penalty kill, and that gave Bishop a relatively easy night, and it gave the Lightning the win.
BUT DON'T COUNT THE RANGERS OUT YET
The Rangers are on their heels simply because their season will end with one more loss, but I don't think there will be any carryover momentum for Game 6. If there was, the Lightning would have won Game 4 after a wild win in Game 3. The Rangers, in my mind, are basically in the same situation they were two games ago knowing that a loss in Tampa Bay would be devastating.
This mindset is nothing new to the Rangers. They were down 3-1 in the second round to the Washington Capitals and they had to make the same kind of rally against the Pittsburgh Penguins last spring. There's no reason to think New York can't handle what it's about to face Tuesday. This is just a case of winning one game on the road, and I don't think that will intimidate the Rangers.
To keep their season alive, though, they've got to get their power play going, and I hate to sound like a broken record, but Rick Nash has to be a factor. He was a factor in Game 4, and the Rangers won. I can barely remember him touching the puck in Game 5, and now New York's season is on the brink. If that happens again in Game 6, the Lightning will be celebrating a conference title. Everyone that's supposed to play well for Tampa Bay is doing it. Nash, Martin St. Louis, Ryan McDonagh, those players need to have big games for the Rangers on Tuesday.
I think they will. The Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist have shown so much grit so far in this postseason, and they've played a number of their best games on the road, that I expect them to play well Tuesday. I think we're going to see a Game 7.