BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
The Rangers and their Johnny-come-lately fans can go celebrate their moral victory against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning this offseason. Too bad there won’t be a banner for that up in the Madison Square Garden rafters.
The Lightning and their passionate fans can celebrate a chance to make history by going for a three-peat. For the third straight year, the Lightning will be in the Stanley Cup Final after defeating the Rangers 2-1 Saturday night at Amalie Arena, winning the Eastern Conference finals in six games.
The Rangers showed they have ways to go until they are at the Lightning level. Sorry, but moral victory should not do in a proud market that used to celebrate the real wins. Saying the Rangers are not that far off from Tampa Bay means nothing. It’s good enough for a participation trophy.
Ask the Islanders what playing Tampa Bay tough the last two years meant in the end. Not only did the Lightning deny them from going to the Stanley Cup Final, but this year, they missed the playoffs and fired Barry Trotz. It could likely mean the Islanders’ run is also over now.
When opportunity comes knocking, it has to be completed. A team can’t wait for next year. There’s no guarantee an opportunity like that will ever happen again. The Rangers of all teams should know this because after 2015 when they got shutout by the Bolts in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals at home, they had some lean years after that.
Something the Rangers can think about this offseason. They can only have so many cracks of the Lightning. When the opportunity presents itself to finish the Lightning, they needed to get it done. They failed by playing flat in Games 3 and 4 that woke up the Bolts and then took control of the series.
The Rangers did not lose this series by losing Game 6. They lost the series in Games 3 and 4. They played with no aggressiveness. They couldn’t score any more as they scored only five goals from Game 3 to 6 after scoring six goals in Game 1. They couldn’t do anything in the neutral zone, and they failed to create scoring chances.
In the end, it came down to talent and skill. The Lightning had it and the Rangers didn’t. Oh, and the Lightning had poise and the know-how to get it done, especially in Game 6.
The Lightning demonstrated all of that in a game they finished off the Rangers.
As the Rangers struggled to score after two periods of play, the feeling was the Lightning had the advantage. The more the Rangers failed to put the puck in the net, the more pressure and tense they would be. This goes back to last year’s Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals when the Islanders could not score a goal and then the Lightning knew they had the advantage since their opponent was pressing. This is a Lightning team that knows how to finish and get into the heads of the other team.
Of course, it was Steven Stamkos that scored the most meaningful goals of a deciding game against the Rangers. This is what he does in a game of this magnitude. It was his 40th and 41st postseason goal of his career. This is why he is the captain. This is why he is going to be a Hall of Famer. His game gave a reminder of what Bryan Trottier was for the Islanders back in the day. Both personified what a championship player is.
Stamkos scored on a wrist shot from the top of the right circle to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead in the second period. It was then the feeling was this was all but over. This Lightning team knows how to finish once they get a lead.
Some obscure player named Frank Vatrano gave the Rangers a modicum of life when he tied the game on a power-play goal in the third period after Stamkos landed in the penalty box for holding.
But that was short-lived. Of course it was. The Lightning captain had the last laugh when he scored the game-winning goal 21 seconds later. This time it was over. There was no way the Lightning would make the same mistake of blowing a lead again. The Rangers were fortunate to get a gift on Stamkos’ penalty, but lightning would not strike twice for them again. They knew it, too.
Simply put, the Lightning played better as the series marinated. It’s what they do. The more the games go on and the more they are familiar with their opponent, they start preying and attacking them. This is why they have to be an odds-on favorite to three-peat. This is why they may be one of the best hockey teams when history remembers them.
It was comically amusing when experts such as Rangers fans and Boomer Esiason thought this would be a sweep by the Rangers. That was blatant disrespect of what the Lightning accomplished.
The Llghtning laughed last and all the Rangers can do is watch and wonder what could have been.
This was a lost opportunity by the Rangers. Plain and simple. They should have finished the Lightning off in either Game 3 or 4. That was the time to attack a proud team that was vulnerable.
The Rangers may not get this opportunity again. Stop with this talk about this team being young and the best is yet to come. We heard this song from the Knicks back in the 90s, and they are still titleless. The Islanders are likely rebuilding after hearing they will be back. This is such loser talk about the team may be back. What makes anyone think the Lightning will be beaten anytime soon? Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Stamkos are not slowing down and retiring anytime soon. This Lightning team will be quite the roadblock for the Rangers the way the Michael Jordan’s Bulls were to the Knicks of the 90s.
This may be the only shot they get, and they failed miserably. In the end, the Rangers stars came up small. Only Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin showed up, and he can only do so much. When a team scores a total of five goals in losing four straight to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, that team deserves an L while watching the other team celebrate.
It’s going to be a long off-season full of regrets and what-ifs.
My how the mighty has fallen. From talk about sweep to regrets in a span of a few days.
But look at the bright side. We don’t have to see James Dolan hoisting the Stanley Cup.
That’s one good thing the Lightning can be useful in time of need.