Sergachev, Lightning strike late, push Rangers to brink in Game 5

Lightning strike late, push Rangers to brink in Game 5
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The Rangers won nine straight playoff games at Madison Square Garden, but now they once again find themselves on the brink of elimination, this time against the Lightning.

In a skin-tight Game 5, the Lightning beat the Rangers 3-1 to take a 3-2 series lead.

This ended up being another case of the Lightning striking late, rather than early. With 1:50 remaining in the third period, Mikhail Sergachev sent a shot that bounced off of Ondrej Palat for the game-winner. Brandon Hagel‘s empty-netter then put it out of reach.

Consider it the latest instance where the Lightning stunned an opponent in the closing moments of the third period.

  • As part of a key Game 3 rally, Ondrej Palat scored a game-winner with 42 seconds left.

Could that have been a tougher series if not for that tally? Maybe not, but the Lightning avoided overtime and gained big wins with late goals.

They’ve been especially crucial during the many times where the margin of error was tiny.

Tensions build, including … Alexis Lafrenière vs. Steven Stamkos?

Oh, and speaking of late developments, there was nastiness after the final whistle. That nastiness included an unlikely fight/scuffle between … Steven Stamkos and Alexis Lafrenière?

If you’re looking for some violence, you may find it that way. (Unless Gerard Gallant calls his team soft again; then maybe the two teams will be more violent all game[s] long.)

Defensemen supply the goals in Game 5

Through the first 40 minutes of Game 5, both teams were stingy. In a scoreless first period, the Rangers (8) and Lightning (3) combined for a sleepy 11 shots on goal.

The first two tallies were ugly types people picture as “playoff goals.”

First, one-person-injury-list Ryan Lindgren beat a likely-screened Andrei Vasilevskiy.

On a broken play, Igor Shesterkin likely also was screened as Mikhail Sergachev found a way to score through a bunch of traffic:

Remarkably, Mikhail Sergachev also took the main shot of the game-winner. Again, it was credited to Palat, but Sergachev’s attempt was a key part of the sequence:

A lot of scoring plays die on lowest-common-denominator shots from the point. Yet, there’s some logic to taking occasional shots if these all-world goalies must deal with obstructed views.

Particularly when Grade-A chances are so scarce …

A pace that benefits the Lightning more than the Rangers in Game 5 and beyond?

The Rangers have really been in every game against the Lightning, including Game 5. Yet, the question lingers: can they ramp the pace back up?

In Game 1, the Rangers ran away with the contest, beating the Lightning 6-2. They won again at home in Game 2. Both wins hammered home that New York belonged against Tampa Bay.

It sure looked like the Rangers were going to take a 3-0 series lead over the Lightning in Game 3. With two power-play goals in quick succession, they were up 2-0 midway through the second period.

Yet, things turned in a big way, with the Lightning rallying to win thanks to a possibly series-changing third period in Game 3.

[More on that pivotal period]

Game 4 featured a 4-1 final score, but things were snug. Personally, that seems like the style this version of the Lightning is most comfortable with. They completely stifled the Panthers, and slowed down the Maple Leafs just enough. Now, are they dictating the pace against the Rangers?

Either way, much of Game 5 was … meandering. It’s not the end of the world for a Rangers team that can rely on Igor Shesterkin, yet it’s fair to wonder if the Lightning are happier not to be in a speedier series.

Consider that, early on, the Rangers were burning the Lightning with cross-seam passes.

Were the Bolts just rusty? Perhaps. Still, Gerard Gallant should at least consider possible tweaks to up the tempo.

To be clear: we might just need to file that under “easier said than done.” The Bolts are equipped to win in a variety of ways, and trap-style defense/other methods of slowing teams down seem to work, even in a high-scoring time.

But if there’s room for the Rangers to at least open things up a bit more, it’s worth searching for against the Lightning.

Wear and tear

As Rangers – Lightning goes on, and the Avalanche rest up, there are injury situations to watch. Some that come to mind include:

  • Obviously, Brayden Point remains out, and it’s unclear if he’ll be back.
  • There were doubts if Rangers centers Ryan Strome and Filip Chytil would miss Game 5. Instead, they played. (Maybe they were limited, but they suited up.)
  • Ryan McDonagh missed a significant chunk of time, yet did return. Possibly another situation to watch.

On the bright side, Ondrej Palat avoided what could have been an injurious (maybe suspension-worthy) elbow from polarizing playoff hitter Jacob Trouba.

2022 NHL playoff schedule: Eastern Conference Final

NEW YORK RANGERS v. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (TBL leads 3-2)

Game 1 – Rangers 6, Lightning 2
Game 2 – Rangers 3, Lightning 2
Game 3 – Lightning 3, Rangers 2
Game 4 – Lightning 4, Rangers 1
Game 5 – Lightning 3, Rangers 1
Game 6 – June 11: Rangers at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET, (ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS)
*Game 7 – June 14: Lightning at Rangers, 8 p.m. ET, (ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS)

* If necessary