Lightning proving they possess special championship quality

Against another opponent, maybe almost any other opponent, this might have been good enough for the Rangers. 

But not against Tampa Bay, against whom the Blueshirts’ performance was just good enough to lose a second heartbreaker within five days and three games. 

On Sunday, of course, Ondrej Palat scored the Game 3 winner at 19:18 of the third period when the champs were in danger of falling behind in the series by 3-0. 

And in this one, it was Palat again on a deflection to score the Game 5 winner at 18:10 of the third period when the champs were in danger of facing elimination at home on Saturday night. 

Instead it is the Rangers, on the wrong side of the line of demarcation separating the Lightning from the rest of the NHL, who will face extinction following this empty-net abetted 3-1 defeat at the Garden on Thursday. 

This time they’re not facing the Penguins or ’Canes. 

Oh my. 

There’s a reason Guy Lafleur scored late in Game 7 to tie the 1979 Too Many Men Game against the Bruins that allowed the Montreal dynasty to continue to breathe. There is a reason John Tonelli scored that late third-period tying goal against Pittsburgh in the decisive Game 5 of the 1982 first round that kept the Dynasty alive. 

The Lightning are displaying the kind of special quality that separates champions from contenders.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

There is a reason Brayden Point scored in overtime in Game 6 of the first round against Toronto this year when the Lightning were facing elimination. There is a reason for Palat doing this twice against the Rangers. 

This is what separates champions from challengers. This is what separates teams like the Lightning that have a special affinity for winning from teams like the Rangers that are trying their darndest to get there. 

Gerard Gallant, the head coach of the Blueshirts, did not in the moment wish to acknowledge that a special quality might beat in the hearts of the team that has beaten his team three straight times, instead indicating these were kind of the result of happenstance. Andrew Copp talked about plays being just as significant in the first five minutes as in the final five minutes of a game. 

But when these two vital games were up for grabs in the final two minutes, the Lightning made the winning play each time. Palat got this one on a deflection of a long one from Mikhail Sergachev 34 seconds after Steven Stamkos beat Mika Zibanejad on a faceoff following a New York icing. The Blueshirts were unable to get control and clear. 

The Lightning worked the puck around the zone until they found Sergachev at the right point. His shot zipped toward the net, where Palat was able to deflect it past a screened and unaware Igor Shesterkin. 

Andrei Vasilevskiy makes a save during the Lightning's Game 5 win over the Rangers.
Andrei Vasilevskiy makes a save during the Lightning’s Game 5 win over the Rangers.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

A nothing play, really. 

A winning play for Tampa Bay.

The Rangers were more committed to detail in this one. They competed for every 50-50 puck and came away with more than their fair share. They were disciplined and avoided foolish mistakes. But they simply could not generate a meaningful attack or sustained pressure. 

They could not make life difficult for Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has surrendered four goals over the past three games, and one at five-on-five, after surrendering nine goals and eight at five-on-five in Games 1 and 2. 

Indeed, when Ryan Lindgren whipped one from the left half-boards that snuck by Vasilevskiy at 10:29 of the second period for a 1-0 lead, it marked the club’s first five-on-five goal in 168:68. 

That’s not enough in this series where the Blueshirts have been awarded only three power plays over the past two matches, and only one in this Game 5 that was a result of Tampa Bay being caught with too many men. The lead evaporated by the end of the period. 

If prison rules are now in effect in this series, the Rangers don’t have much time in which to adapt. There’s not all that much time to adapt, period, but the Blueshirts must find a way to create pressure on Vasilevskiy. They need much more from the Zibanejad-Chris Kreider connection that is running on empty at five-on-five. 

Did the Rangers overpass in this one? Did they revert to east-west habits? Maybe. Maybe a little, but not to an egregious extent. If Ryan Strome had been able to handle Copp’s lateral in front of an empty net with around 5:45 to play, the play would have been hailed. It wasn’t necessarily one pass too many but one play too few. 

The Rangers buckled down. They went down to the wire with the champs. And lost again in a photo finish. Funny how that seems to happen when the Lightning are on the other side.

Soruce :

Leave a comment

SMM Panel