New York Rangers, in 3-2 series hole again, say 'there's belief'

NEW YORK -- The Tampa Bay Lightning ended the New York Rangers' eight-game home playoff winning streak with a 3-1 win in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night, pushing them to the brink of elimination.

It's familiar territory for the Rangers.

"We've been down 3-2 in every series so far," forward Andrew Copp said. "We're going to have to have a level of desperation. There's belief in the room. We played a pretty solid hockey game."

Defenseman Jacob Trouba underscored that belief.

"It definitely stings," he said. "But we have to go there, win a game, come back here and play a Game 7. That's the goal now. We're going to go to Tampa and win a game."

The Rangers and Lightning were tied 1-1 late in the third period when a shot from Tampa Bay defenseman Mikhail Sergachev was deflected into the net by winger Ondrej Palat with 1:50 left in regulation. It was Palat's second game-winning goal in the past three games; he also scored with 42 seconds remaining in Game 3 back in Tampa.

The Rangers were limited to one goal for the second straight game, as Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made 24 saves.

"It's defend until the end," said Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos. "We just stayed patient. We knew it was going to be a challenge with the way they were playing, with the atmosphere. It certainly wasn't pretty at times. But we kept it at 1s, and you never know. That's twice now where we went into the last couple shifts and continued with the game plan. When you stick with it long enough, you get rewarded."

The two goals scored in the second period came from unlikely sources.

Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren, who had one goal in 15 postseason games, floated a long shot from the side boards through Vasilevskiy at 10:29 of the second period for the 1-0 lead.

The Lightning tied the score at 1-1 as Sergachev scored through a double screen in front of Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin (24 saves) at 17:34.

The Rangers had their chances for a second goal but couldn't convert. One golden opportunity saw center Ryan Strome, who returned to play Game 5 after missing Game 4 with a lower-body injury, unable to knock the puck into an open net on a pass from Copp.

"There's chances everywhere. I put it a little behind him anyway," said Copp.

Coach Gerard Gallant said the opportunities were there for his team in Game 5.

"There were a few where we should have had an open net [goal], but it just jumped over our stick," he said. "I thought we played a great game. We played a sound hockey game. It's tough losing like that at the end, but I thought we played a sound hockey game."

The Rangers' goal was just their second even-strength goal since the first period of Game 2 in the series. Their power play, which ranks first in the playoffs and clicks at a 30% conversion rate at home, was limited to one opportunity in Game 5 -- a Lightning bench minor for too many men on the ice in the second period that was the result of Shesterkin shooting the puck toward the Bolts during a change. The Rangers did not score on their lone power play.

Gallant thought the Rangers deserved more power-play opportunities than that, as he felt the Lightning weren't whistled for some obvious infractions.

"I did. I really did. But in saying that, I think they [called] an excellent game. They let the teams play," Gallant said of the officials. "But I thought we could have had a couple more."

Copp acknowledged the disparity, but put the lack of calls in perspective.

"The one penalty they were forced to call, because there were six guys playing in the play. Maybe there were a couple of others that were borderline, that were maybe deserved. But it wasn't like they had seven power plays and we had one," Copp said. "You can't rely on that."

The Rangers return to Tampa for Game 6 on Saturday night. There are few things in which they can take solace after three straight losses to a Lightning team that seems to be getting better as the series goes longer. But they've faced elimination five previous times in this playoff run -- and they've won all five games.

Said Lindgren: "We play our best hockey when our backs are against the wall."