Series tied at 2
Location: Madison Square Garden
Time: 8:00 PM EST
Broadcast/Streaming: ESPN, ESPN+, CBC, TVAS, SN
Opponent’s SBNation Site: Blueshirt Banter
Things are a little different than when the Lightning were on the ice in Madison Square Garden. At the end of Game Two they were skating off the ice having lost back-to-back playoff games in the post season for the first time since 2019. It seemed the Rangers had all of the momentum and the obituaries for the Lightning season were being prepared.
Now, after two wins in Tampa, the Lightning seem to have turned the tide (DraftKings now have them as the -165 favorite to win the series) and it’s the Rangers who are on the ropes. Here’s the thing, New York has been in this exact spot already. In the first round they lost the first two games in Pittsburgh and and came back to the Garden down 3-1 before rolling off three straight wins.
Then, against Carolina they dropped the first two in the BBQ state before winning the next four of five (the only loss coming on the road). Let’s face it, the Rangers are not a good road time in the postseason. They are 2-7 and allowing 3.67 goals per game while only scoring 2.44 on the road. Compare that to their 8-1 home record with 4.22 goals scored per game and just 2.22 allowed.
Their northstar in net, Igor Shesterkin, is 8-1 at home with a .948 SV% and 2.04 GAA but just 2-6 on the road and a rather pedestrian .904 SV% and 3.42 GAA. So, in other words, it’s great that the Lightning have tied the series back up, but all they’ve managed to do is bring things to level.
If they were drowning early in the series, they’ve just now broken the surface and can breathe a little. They still have to make their way to shore, and that can be the hardest part. Over the next two or more games the Lightning have to find a way to play with the same determination and skill that they showed in Games Three and Four. And they have to do it in New York.
Two key factors for tonight’s game will be Andrei Vasilevskiy (as usual) and the Lightning’s second line. Vasilevskiy, like the team in front of him, has improved as this series progressed:
Game 1: -3.04 GSAx
Game 2: -.22 GSAx
Game 3: 1.13 GSAx
Game 4: 1.22 GSAx
He’s not quite at the level he was at in the Florida series (more than 2 goals saved above expected in each game) but he’s getting back to that level we’ve come to expect from him. Coach Cooper has mentioned multiple times that Vasilevskiy was the player he was most worried about during the long layoff, and the way his game has improved over the last few games indicates that may have been the case.
In Game Four, there weren’t many shots that tested him, but on the occasion that the Rangers snuck one through he made the initial stop, something he didn’t do in Game One (his save percentage on first shots was just 86.36% compared to the 94.68% he’s at overall in the postseason). Make the first save and let the defense take care of the second chances, that’s the Tampa Way.
As for the second line. Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn, and Brandon Hagel have been together since Game Two (actually, probably late in Game One, but they played together for less than a minute). In those three games they’ve been on the plus side of possession and in generating chances - they just haven’t finished them.
During the two home games they absolutely shut down their opposition (mostly the Rangers top line) by controlling the shot attempts (40-20), scoring chances (19-10), high danger chances (11-2) and expected goals (71.5%) powered mostly by a dominating Game Three. While they didn’t score a single goal, they did keep the Rangers most dangerous scoring line as far away from the Lightning net as possible - if you don’t want to play defense, dominate on offense.
With the series shifting back to New York you can guarantee Gerard Gallant is going to keep Mike Zibanajad, Chris Kreider, and Frank Vatrano as far from that match-up as possible. In Game Two, Cirelli & Co. saw most of the their 5v5 ice time against the second line of Artemi Panarin, Andrew Copp, and Ryan Strome. Whatever form the Rangers’ second line takes in Game Five it will likely be their target again. Is it important for them to shut them down? Yes, but at some point they have to turn those scoring chances (24 total in three games) into actual goals.
New York is scrambling to figure out their lines at this point. Strome was out of Game Four and Filip Chytil left the game early. Barclay Goodrow played, but wasn’t 100%. Kevin Rooney took Strome’s spot on the roster and only played 9:07 on the fourth line. He held his own, but is nowhere near the player that Strome is. If Chytil AND Strome are out in Game Five, then the depth down the middle is really going to get tested as Rooney has to bump up in the line-up and pay more meaningful minutes. Gallant can protect him a little as it is now, but that becomes more difficult if there are two replacements entering the game.
Other than that, don’t turn the puck over 20 times and stay away from the penalty box and the Lightning should have a good time in the Big Apple.
Game Three was key for the Lightning to stop the negative momentum. Game Five will be key for them to keep it going. Yes, they are the only team to beat New York in MSG in a Game Seven, but if they can prevent that by winning Game Five, that’s a much better path to the Stanley Cup Final.
Tampa Bay Lightning Potential Lines
Steven Stamkos - Anthony Cirelli - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Nick Paul - Alex Killorn
Brandon Hagel - Ross Colton - Corey Perry
Patrick Maroon - Riley Nash - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev - Zach Bogosian
New York Rangers Potential Lines
Chris Kreider - Mika Zibanejad - Frank Vatrano
Artemi Panarin - Ryan Strome (?) - Andrew Copp
Alexis Lafreniere - Filip Chytil (?) - Kaapo Kakko
Tyler Motte - Barclay Goodrow (?)- Ryan Reaves
Ryan Lindgren - Adam Fox
K’Andre Miller - Jacob Trouba
Justin Braun - Braden Schneider