The New York Rangers have been here before. The Tampa Bay Lightning have not.
The Lightning had a chance to earn a berth in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final with a win in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Tuesday, but experienced a third-period collapse in a 7-3 loss.
Bring on Game 7 at Madison Square Garden on Friday.
The Rangers went into the third period in a familiar spot, up 2-1. They quickly lit up the Lightning, scoring five times in the final 20 minutes, chasing goalie Ben Bishop from the net.
“I think for five straight periods, we played really, really well. We played defense. We created chances. We just didn’t turn pucks over. We thought we were playing a 2-1 game. Unfortunately, we weren’t winning 2-1,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper.
“And I think in a matter of seven or eight minutes there in that third period, we gave up more scoring chances and turned over more pucks, more than we did in all of Game 5 combined, the 60-minute game. For our team, as a group, we’ve never been this far before, and so it’s just more lessons learned, and sometimes you have to go to the school of hard knocks to find out what works and what doesn’t.
“We’ve got a young group. They’ve played some unreal hockey here to get us this far, and we showed if we’re not going to play the proper way, a really, really good hockey team is going to beat you, and that’s what they did. It’s a lesson learned.”
Cooper was asked afterward about how his team will respond after such a loss. His answer was one of resolve. Now, will it translate onto the ice in the biggest game of the year for the Lightning, and the Rangers?
“We’re going to respond the same way we have every time our backs are against the wall,” said Cooper.