Two more wins in five chances. That's what this Rangers squad who's won 6 of 7 needs to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final. It's hard to imagine based on their steady progression as the playoff pool has grown smaller that the Blueshirts can't get the job done - but if anyone should know never to count an opponent out early it's the team responsible for erasing 3-1 and 2-0 deficits to get here. Also, this isn't just any opponent. The Lightning know they're not out of it yet. They won't panic. Simply holding serve at Amalie Arena makes this a best-of-three while giving them all the momentum returning to MSG. They've played plenty of bigger games than today's matinee.
Still, it's unchartered territory. For the first time in three postseasons they've dropped consecutive games. It's one thing to bounce back from a loss, but they've been beaten pretty handily (despite the Game 2 score) twice now. They look overmatched. While it's always possible any team in the Rangers' position falls on their face away from home it's certainly not likely. They're peaking at the perfect time and let's not forget NY has two massive road wins these playoffs. In a virtual must-win contest, the defending champs are gonna have to summon their best effort yet to avoid having to accomplish something that's only happened 4 times in NHL history when down 3-0.
For the Blueshirts, they're in the driver's seat. Obviously they don't wanna give games away but a loss doesn't change much as long as they make the Lightning earn it. Give Vasilevskiy no choice but to rekindle his Conn Smythe form and somehow shut down Zibanejad, Kreider, the kids, Fox, etc. Leave the superstars in Kucherov, Stamkos and Hedman - a trio that's a combined MINUS ELEVEN so far - no option but to find a way to humanize Shesterkin. If four future HOFers have an epic performance & get their squad in the win column so be it. The Rangers would still have a lead, still have another crack at a road W and still have home ice advantage.
If it's anything less than Tampa Bay's best though, Shesty & Co. simply can't let them get away with it. They're too good. Too dangerous. If the Bolts leave any doubt whatsoever, dig their hole so damn deep only a miracle can pull them out of it.
VIVA LA BLUESHIRTS!!!