For the Lightning, a win on home ice means a trip to the Stanley Cup finals for only the second time in franchise history. The other time, of course, was when they won it all, in 2004. The Rangers will attempt to stave off elimination and force a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers have won 14 of the last 17 playoff games when facing elimination. They have also won the last five playoff series when trailing 3-2. The Lightning have gone 2-0 in Game 6 situations this postseason.
“If we don’t play better than we did in Game 5, we won’t win tonight,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said.
The Lightning defeated the Rangers 2-0 in Game 5. Tampa Bay needs to treat Game 6 like it’s a Game 7. For the Rangers, a win in Game 6 means they could win this series on home ice in Game 7.
“There is no doubt that as a group tonight we’ve got to come up with our best game of the year, and that’s what we’re going to try and do,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.
Prey on young Lightning: The Rangers can certainly hope that they can take advantage of a young Lightning team that, as a current group, hasn’t been here before. Is there an opening for veteran Rangers to take advantage of a giddy, young team at home trying to book a ticket to the Cup finals?
“I hope so, I don’t think about what they’re thinking about, though,” said Rangers blueliner Dan Boyle. "There’s definitely pressure on them at home to finish this series up. Sometimes maybe players don’t react to that kind of pressure. But I don’t really think what they’re going through."
The Rangers didn’t go see a movie -- forward Rick Nash organized a screening of "Entourage" before Game 5 -- Monday night. They’re all business.
“We got to win a game,” Boyle said. “I still like the way this locker room is handling itself. Everybody’s different, but we’re pretty even keel.”
Tampa Bay understands the situation it's in and how the Rangers will handle Game 6.
"They have the experience. They’ve been in these situations a lot of times before,” said Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman, who played three seasons for the Rangers. “Being on that team before and knowing the mentality of the guys in the room, you know they’re going to come out with their best game. It’s about what we do in here to match that and make sure we have the right mentality, protect our own net first and then go on the offense. I think we did a tremendous job of that the last game, and that’s the way we want to play.”
Captain stepping up: This has the potential to be the biggest game of Steven Stamkos' career. The Lightning captain has scored goals in four consecutive games, including three assists for seven points. His goal-scoring streak ties a franchise playoff mark, joining Martin St. Louis (2003) and Vincent Lecavalier (2007). Stamkos also has at least one point in nine of the past 10 games.
“It’s never easy making the playoffs," Stamkos said. "It’s not easy getting this far, and I think it’s the toughest trophy in all of sports to win. We do have to realize how close we are, and you never want to waste this chance, because it’s so hard to get here. We have to treat this like it’s a Game 7. We had that mentality against Montreal in Game 6, and hopefully we can play the same way.”
Masked men: Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is 14-3, with a 1.39 goals-against average and a .956 save percentage in his last 17 games when the Rangers face elimination.
“He’s been on every kind of stage around the world as being a top goalie. He uses that,” Nash said.
Lightning goalie Ben Bishop is 11-2-0, including three shutouts in 13 career games against the Rangers. He recorded his second shutout of the playoffs with a 26-save performance in a 2-0 win in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden. Bishop did not participate in the team’s optional skate Tuesday.
Special teams: Normally at this point of the season, special teams aren’t as important as 5-on-5 play. But in this series, special teams have proved crucial for both teams. The Rangers went 0-for-4 on the power play in Game 5. New York had scored two power-play goals in three of the previous four games. Overall, the Rangers are 6-for-19 on the power play in the Eastern Conference finals. New York has posted a 6-1 record when outscoring its opponent on special teams this postseason.
Victor Hedman-Anton Stralman
Marc Staal-Dan Boyle