The New York Rangers are again facing elimination, trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals, with Game 6 on tap from Tampa’s Amalie Arena on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET. If anyone knows about these two franchises, it’s former NHL coach John Tortorella, who won a Stanley Cup with the Bolts in 2004 and led the Blueshirts to the Eastern Conference finals in 2012. What is it going to take for the Rangers to save their season? Tortorella serves up some chalk talk with a few keys for the Rangers heading into Tuesday’s do-or-die game:
1. Special-teams savvy: “First of all, they need to score a power-play goal,” Tortorella told ESPN.com in a telephone conversation Tuesday afternoon. “That really hurt them last game; it really took some of their momentum away and they seemed to lose a little energy.”
The Rangers were blanked on all four power-play opportunities Sunday night after tallying a pair of man-up goals in each of their previous three games. Additionally, the Lightning did not allow a single shot from a "high-danger area" while short-handed, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Power-play woes are nothing new for the Blueshirts -- Tortorella had to field questions about their much-maligned unit often during his tenure in New York -- but he expressed confidence they will find the back of the net in Game 6: “I know they will.”
2. Defense is key: Under Tortorella’s structured shot-blocking system, the Rangers developed a reputation as one of the stingiest defensive teams in the league. The club’s system has changed under coach Alain Vigneault to employ a more opportunistic, offensive approach, but that strong defensive identity remains the same, even though the Rangers finished third in the league in total offense (3.02 goals/game) during the regular season.
“They need to be who they are,” Tortorella said. “Everyone loves talking about offense, but you have to defend. ... They defend well and their offense comes off of that.”
This is where the Rangers need stalwarts Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal rise to the occasion.
“They can't get too excited, and they won't,” Tortorella said. “This is a veteran group, they’re well-coached; they need to be themselves.”
3. Hank has to be Hank: The Rangers have long relied on goaltender Henrik Lundqvist as their backbone, and they need him now more than ever to play like the King. Lundqvist has been so steady in previous postseason runs that it was a shock to the system to see the Vezina Trophy winner surrender six goals in both Games 3 and 4. But if there is anything to know about the steady Swede, it is that he excels when the Rangers are facing elimination. That should give New York a sense of comfort heading into their biggest game of the postseason yet.
“I’ll just go on my own experience -- as the stakes get higher and the closer it gets to [the Stanley Cup finals], his game keeps rising,” Tortorella said. "He has to be the best player tonight, and I think he will be.”
4. Neutralize the opponent: Both clubs possess ample speed throughout their lineups, so it’s no surprise that, at times, this series has resembled a track meet. That’s not necessarily the sort of game the Rangers want to play, Tortorella said, especially since Tampa Bay’s offensive arsenal fuels a strong transition game, led by Tyler Johnson and his Triplets line.
“You let that little [Tyler] Johnson get going throughout that neutral zone, and you can't stop him,” Tortorella said.
Maintaining gaps, pressuring the defense and clogging up the neutral zone are essential to limiting the Lightning’s opportunities.
“You’re not going to control them completely,” Tortorella said. “But you have to inhibit them a little bit.”
5. Rely on experience: If nothing else, the Rangers can seek solace in the fact they have had their backs against the wall plenty of times before and emerged on the winning side. Knowing what to expect and how to stay calm with their season on the line should help bolster this group’s confidence.
Tortorella thinks Game 6 will be more defensive-minded than physical, considering what is at stake and the small margin for error. The Rangers know that they cannot afford to let emotions play a role and that discipline will be a key.
“They’re not going to get caught up in all the bulls--- of running around,” Tortorella said. "It’s such a close series that it’s whoever blinks first.”