It is not unfamiliar territory for these Rangers.
Tuesday, it'll be one match to determine whether their season comes to an end or if they can force team sports' ultimate game.
"It's not like we haven't been there before," Henrik Lundqvist told reporters after the Rangers were shutout, 2-0, by the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final. Tampa Bay leads the best-of-seven, 3-2. Game 6 is set for Tuesday (8 p.m., NBCSN) at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay. "We just have to go out there and leave everything out there and see how far that takes us. It's going to be a challenge for us."
Indeed. It has become plainly evident that the Lightning are unlike any playoff opponent the Rangers have competed against in the Alain Vigneault Era. Following Games 2-3, Tampa Bay's Triplets line had dominated the conversation. Following Game 5, the talk shifted to franchise cornerstone Steven Stamkos and goaltender Ben Bishop.
Stamkos finished the game with a goal and an assist, both occurring in a second period in which Tampa took control of the game. Despite a slight 6-4 advantage in shots on goal in the first, the Rangers were able to implement their forecheck and cycle game, and, as a result generated two power plays.
However, the Lightning essentially beat the Rangers at their own game in the last two periods. Tampa clogged the neutral zone and would not allow the Rangers to carry the puck into the offensive zone. And the Lightning's penalty kill units were significantly more aggressive in Game 5 than they had been in Games 2-4, as the Rangers went 0-for-4 with just four shots on the man advantage.
"Well, [the Lightning] did find those shooting lanes," Vigneault said. "I really like the way we came out, the energy, and the time we spent in their end. But for all that time, we didn't get much out of it. They did a great job of defending, blocking lanes and blocking shots, and it made it really challenging for us.
"Our power play had been getting us some momentum, had been getting us some really good looks. Our execution was a little bit slow tonight on the power play. Because it was slow, it made it easier for them to defend. We didn't get very many looks on it, and obviously that was a big part of [Sunday's] game."
As for Bishop, Tampa's goaltender stopped all 26 shots he faced in Game 5 after yielding 10 goals in Games 3-4.
"I would say he looked really confident in the net," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "We've watched this in two previous series. As the series have gone on, and the longer they've gone on, he's elevated his game. It's when you know he's back there and he's playing with that confidence, and the way he's playing the puck, he's making that first save. He's not giving up rebounds. He's just commanding the net.
"We feed off that. We have no doubt how he can play. With four teams that are left, you're not getting here without good goaltending. All great goalies left, and Bish is a top-tier goaltender in this league, and he's shown it."