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Three keys for Rangers, Lightning to winning Game 6

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

TAMPA -- The New York Rangers are no strangers to the position they're in right now, facing elimination going into Game 6 of a Stanley Cup Playoff series. They're also no strangers to winning in this position.

The Rangers head into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) trailing 3-2 in the best-of-7 series facing elimination for the fourth time in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs and for the 18th time since the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

New York is 3-0 when facing elimination this year and 14-3 going back to their series against the Ottawa Senators in 2012. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has played in all 17 of the games and has a 1.39 goals-against average and .956 save percentage in them.

The Rangers are 6-0 in Games 6 or 7 of a playoff series and 8-1 when facing elimination going back to the start of the 2014 postseason.

"I think for a lot of reasons these games are, for me, almost an easier way to play because if you lose you know you're going home so you've just got to play your best game, play confident," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "You've just got to enjoy it. Your back is against the wall, you've got to win a game in their rink, so go out there, compete like crazy and try to get it done. I think it's a lot of fun."

The Lightning are undoubtedly well aware of the Rangers' ability to stave off elimination. Defenseman Anton Stralman, right wing Ryan Callahan and center Brian Boyle all played for the Rangers as recently as last season. Stralman and Boyle were part of New York's run to the Stanley Cup Final.

"They have the experience," Stralman said. "They've been in these situations a lot of times before. Being on that team before and knowing the mentality of the guys in the room you know they're going to come out with their best game. It's about what we do in here to match that and make sure we have the right mentality, protect our own net first and then go on the offense."

Here are three keys to the Rangers finding success again in an elimination game, and three keys that the Lightning need to abide by in order to knock New York out and advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

RANGERS

1. Change the shooting lane

The Rangers had 58 shot attempts in Game 5, two more than the amount they were averaging through the first four games of the series. The Lightning blocked 24 of them, 10 more blocks than they were averaging in the first four games of the series. The Lightning blocked 10 of New York's 22 shot attempts in the third period as it locked down and held on for a 2-0 win.

If the Lightning are going to sacrifice their bodies to stop shots from getting to goalie Ben Bishop, the response from New York has to be greater patience and more movement to change the shooting lanes, whether it be defensemen walking the blue line or forwards pump faking to get a Lightning shot blocker to bite.

"Movement is big," Staal said. "I think it causes some confusion, less diving in and out. If we can get it to the net quicker and not let them get in the lanes maybe we'll get a couple of bounces, deflections to cause some confusion and havoc in front of them."

The Rangers responded well when they were faced with the same issue heading into Game 5 against the Washington Capitals in the second round.

The Capitals, who blocked a combined 52 shots in winning Games 3 and 4, blocked 13 of New York's 66 shot attempts in Game 5. The Rangers had 43 shots on goal and won 2-1.

New York is averaging 29 shots on goal through five games against Tampa Bay.

2. Kreider needs a big game

Left wing Chris Kreider is an X-factor for the Rangers because nobody else on the team has his combination of size, power and speed. He is notorious for going hard to the net.

Kreider needs to be engaged physically and a factor on the forecheck to give the Rangers their best chance to win Game 6.

He was better at it in Game 5, when he was credited with seven hits and helped the Rangers keep the puck in the zone for long stretches, particularly in the first 35 minutes of the game. However, Kreider's physicality has not been as big of a factor for the Rangers as it was against the Washington Capitals.

Part of that is a result of how the Lightning play, and particularly how well Bishop moves the puck. Bishop is one of the best goalies in the NHL at playing the puck and putting it areas where his defensemen can get it without worrying about getting hit by an on-rushing forward such as Kreider.

"They have some mobile, pretty slippery defensemen," Kreider said. "It's not about getting a lick on someone as much as it is making them go 200 feet. They're a good group when it comes to getting their 'D' in the play and getting a five-man rush."

3. Don't change much else

The Rangers can't overthink this situation and how they got here. Their losses in Games 2 and 3 were uncharacteristic of them, but they played in Games 4 and 5 the way they want to play the game at this time of the year. They can't get away from that now that they face elimination.

Even though the Rangers didn't score in Game 5, there were a lot of positives to take away.

They had the puck a lot, particularly in the first half of the game, and created four power-play opportunities because of it.

They forced Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper to use his timeout following an icing at 14:01 of the first period because they were rolling their lines and hemming the Lightning into the zone.

Lundqvist was on his game. (Did you see his glove save on Steven Stamkos at 1:42 of the second period?)

They were taking the plays that were there instead of forcing the puck into the middle of the ice.

They did a lot well, but they didn't score. They can't get too frustrated because of it.

"We know we can beat them," Lundqvist said. "We did a great job against them last time in this building. Just be focused on the process here. The past is the past. We don't really think about that now. We have to really prove it to ourselves that we can play the best game of the series tonight."

LIGHTNING

1. Keep the same mindset

The Lightning know they can open it up and rely on their speed and skill to pressure the Rangers, but they feel the key to winning games this deep in a series against quality competition is to play the way they did in Game 5.

The Lightning had a defensive mindset, figuring their offense would eventually come because it typically does. They feel they're at their best when they're playing that way, even if it takes away from the excitement they created in scoring 12 goals between Games 2 and 3.

"Yeah we have guys that can put the puck in the net, but at the same time any team that is winning is concentrating on 'D' and worried about their own net first," Callahan said. "I thought we got back to that and we did a good job of it too. You can see when we play that way we have success."

2. Don't move the Bishop

Facing heat for allowing 10 goals between Games 3 and 4, Bishop responded with a 26-save shutout in Game 5, when his rebound control was impeccable, leaving the Rangers with scarce second chance opportunities.

Ben Bishop
Goalie - TBL
RECORD: 11-7
GAA: 2.08 | SVP: .922
It's hard to say Bishop will need to be better in Game 6, but that might actually be the case, particularly if the Rangers respond the way they're planning to respond, with more shots, more traffic, more intense pressure on Bishop.

There shouldn't be any doubt anywhere in the hockey world of Lundqvist playing a strong Game 6 because he is always great when the Rangers are facing elimination.

Bishop can't have his game tail off even in the slightest if the Lightning plan to win the series Tuesday because it's unlikely that Lundqvist will.

3. Re-ignite the "Triplets"

The Rangers have done a good job cooling off Tampa Bay's line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat in the past two games.

Kucherov and Palat had assists on Stamkos' power-play goal in Game 5, but the "Triplets" line has not produced at even strength since it accounted for three goals in Game 3. As a result, the Lightning have three goals in the past two games.

The Lightning scored enough to win Game 5, but to become that dangerous team again they'll need Johnson, Palat and Kucherov to rediscover the magic they had for the first 16 games in the playoffs, when they accounted for 25 of Tampa Bay's 47 goals.

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