By Jared Max
» More Columns
It would be a disservice to the New York Rangers and fellow fans of the Blueshirts to listen to the rumbling in my gut that tells me my favorite hockey team has exhausted its nine lives. So, I remain optimistic.
Ignoring the fact that the Rangers looked like a defeated team during and after Game 5, I am confident that Alain Vigneault’s club will pull another rabbit from its Broadway Hat. In nine elimination games since the start of last season’s playoffs, Vigneault has coached eight Rangers victories. Perhaps, this is why he did not answer the question that I asked him after Sunday’s 2-0 loss.
Having witnessed several members of the Lightning throwing a football around and playing hacky sack with a soccer ball before Game 5, I wondered how Vigneault’s team could approach a potential season-ending game with a loose attitude. Vigneault offered this stock response: “I’ve got a lot of faith and trust in my players. They know how to prepare, and they know how to get ready for games. There’s going to be no bigger game than the next one. So, I’m confident that we’re going to be ready for it.”
I am not confident. But, I am not foolish enough to think that the Rangers are dead. They are the NHL’s version of a bad guy in a movie who manages to stay alive, regardless of many times he gets shot.“Why do they call him Boris the Bullet Dodger? Because he dodges bullets!”
If the Rangers manage to snatch this series — their second one this postseason when facing elimination — they will send the following message to the Western Conference champ. “Even if you have us down 3-0, we are still going to win.”
Even Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos, who scored Sunday for the fourth straight game in this series, knows his team hasn’t won anything yet. After Game 5, I asked Stamkos if the Lightning got a sense that they had taken the wind out of the resilient Rangers’ sails.
“You said it, they’re a resilient group,” Stamkos responded. “They’re the best team in the regular season for a reason. These guys went to the Cup Final last year. How many times have they been down in a series and come back? We know all those different scenarios. We’re gonna get their best game. We got that in Game 4, and we saw the response they had.”
Stamkos knows his team needs to win only one game before the Rangers win twice, but he is also aware that New York has a 6-0 record the last six times it has played a Game 6 or 7. And, Henrik Lundqvist’s goals-against-average in these games is 1.13.
Add in the fact that the Rangers have won twice as many games on the road this season as they lost, there is no reason to believe that their season will end Monday night. I stand by the chips I placed on the table over two months ago. It is Stanley Cup or bust.
Prediction: Rangers 4, Lightning 2
Follow Jared on Twitter at @Jared_Max