The 2022 NHL Eastern Conference Finals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Rangers has advanced to Game 6 with two-time Stanley Cup champions Lightning holding a 3-2 lead.
The Colorado Avalanche are expecting the series winner, who could be the Lightning after Saturday night’s game. What does Tampa Bay have to do to close it? What will New York do to counter? We break it all down here.
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What does the Flash have to do to complete this series?
Emily Kaplan, NHL reporter: The Lightning have returned to their dominant form after a slow start to the series. That nine-day break between series was no joke — and I’m sure we’ll be talking about it for Colorado when the Stanley Cup Finals get underway.
The biggest change for Tampa Bay is puck management. The Lightning would force things when things didn’t go their way and try to make something out of thin air, and they’ve cleaned that up since the middle of Game 2 (the turning point in this series). They need to keep boxing out Rangers players in front of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy – because as long as Vasilevskiy looks clean, he’ll stop almost anything – and keep generating quick defensive breakouts.
These guys are becoming the kings of late-game drama, scoring three winners in under two minutes this postseason. Ondrej Palat scored two of those goals and as he told me after Game 5: If they play like they did in Game 4, they are confident that they can finish it at home.
Arda Öcal, NHL presenter: They looked sluggish in the first two games of that series against Rangers, but the long gap between series and the momentum in Rangers’ stride probably had something to do with it. Now? It looks like they’re about to get right back to their dynastic ways.
Game 6 truly felt like a “playoff game” as both defenses were stingy, and Tampa Bay looked particularly solid defensively throughout the game. If this continues, if the Lightning match New York for speed and Vasilevskiy pulls off another great performance, this one could finish at six.
Kristen Shilton, NHL reporter: Tampa Bay weathered an early storm (no pun intended) with the Rangers climaxing from that Game 7 win over the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round. The last-minute goal Tampa Bay scored in Game 3 really got them going, and New York hasn’t recovered.
The Lightning have remained calm under pressure and have never let the ups and downs dictate their confidence. That will again be the key to getting New York ready. The Blitz’s defensive habit has really improved over the past few games; they take part of the burden from Vasilevskiy to save her; and even if they don’t score many goals, they score when it counts.
To wrap things up on Saturday, look for more timely contributions from Tampa Bay’s deep talent and expect Vasilevskiy to shut the door once more. Also, count on coach Jon Cooper behind the bench to use the home ice to his advantage – and have a trick or two up his sleeve to throw Rangers off balance.
Greg Wyshynski, NHL reporter: Cooper explained why this series became the way it is. The Rangers had the better game in Games 1 and 2 because the Lightning were physically and mentally unfit after a nine-day break between rounds. He knew the sacking hurt Vasilevskiy the most, and he’s been their best player since Game 2, owning a .956 save percentage (86 saves from 90 countershots) in the last three games of the series.
As the Lightning made 48 combined turnovers in the first two games of the series, the coach — loud and emphatic behind the scenes — reminded them not to make plays that aren’t there. They have signed a total of 29 in the last three games. They only get better and better as the series progresses, while the Rangers look physically exhausted.
Continue their championship in the 5-on-5 where the Rangers have scored twice since the first half of Game 2 and stay away from the penalty area like they have in the last two games and the Lightning will get their ticket to Denver punch.
What should Rangers do to counter in Game 6?
Chaplain: As former Rangers player Brandon Dubinsky suggested on Twitter: maybe we need a guarantee from Mika Zibanejad. But that doesn’t sit well with these Rangers, who never go low on losses or high on wins. I was really impressed by their consistency in these playoffs, especially for such a young team.
Adam Fox told me last round that maybe it’s the naivety of the team – the players don’t let the moment get the best of them. It explains how they stand 5-0 in potential elimination games this postseason. They played their best hockey when there was no tomorrow. Few teams can claim that.
To win Game 6, the Rangers have to do all of the little things that made them successful in Games 1 and 2: win the puck fights on the cushions, which prevents the Lightning from forechecking, get some pucks in the net (and getting more traffic in front of Vasilevskiy) and letting Zibanejad do his thing in the power play instead of quotes to the media. That’s her style.
Öcal: As the slogan says, there is no end in New York. They twice trailed the Pittsburgh Penguins by multiple goals in elimination games, but rallied to win three straight elimination games. They were the only team to defeat the Hurricanes at home (and eliminate them from the playoffs).
They now face Andrei Vasilevskiy, the “Mr. Series-clinching” who has six career shutouts in this type of games, but… “There’s No Quit in New York!” If there’s one scenario where a team could get off the mat and force a Game 7, it’s these Rangers this postseason.
Shilton: New York became the first team this postseason to beat Carolina at home, in Game 7. An all-or-nothing moment doesn’t exactly intimidate these Rangers. That’s energy worth channeling in Game 6 against Tampa Bay. New York was good early in this series, keeping the puck away from Tampa Bay’s top skaters and offensively jumping on the Lightning to disrupt their rhythm. Making Tampa Bay uncomfortable isn’t easy, but New York has had some success with it and achieved results to match.
Physically challenging the Lightning, shooting pucks at Vasilevskiy, and establishing a good forecheck will help New York take this streak home. The most important factor, however, will be maintaining the belief that no matter what the Lightning have accomplished in the past, it doesn’t necessarily dictate the future. The Rangers must avoid self-sabotaging themselves by thinking too much about Tampa Bay’s championship history.
Vyshynsky: You know that rejuvenation tank that Boba Fett uses to heal himself? They need that. Well, and some power plays.
The Rangers have played a lot of hockey and expended a lot of energy this postseason, with two seven-game series that have seen them collect on multiple occasions. Throughout the lineup, you can start to see small mental flaws that come with fatigue and physical exhaustion. It is a testament to their steadfastness that two of their last three losses have been one shot away games lost at the end of regulation.
So on that Game 6 counterattack, Rangers need goalie Igor Shesterkin to limit the Lightning to a goal or less, and they need to get the extra goal they haven’t been able to get in their last three losses. The best way to get there is through the power play, where Rangers still lead the playoffs in efficiency (31.5%) but have only had 3 minutes and 15 seconds of power play ice time in their last two games. Forward Andrew Copp told me, “You can’t count on that,” but if they’re going to win Game 6, they kind of have to.
What is your final score prediction for Game 6?
Chaplain: Rangers will play tight and desperate, but I think the Lightning will finish 3-1 on home ice. The final gate is an empty net.
Öcal: Rangers win a spirited 2-1 game and force Game 7.
Shilton: New York really exceeded expectations in these playoffs. But I like Tampa Bay at home. Flash, 4-2.
Vyshynsky: Flash, 4-1. It remains “No Quit in New York”. It’s just that the Lightning will have achieved the mandatory four wins, meaning the series is over, as is the Rangers season.