Never Underestimate Heart of Champion


(Photo credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

So much for the Rangers sweeping the two-time Stanley Cup defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning showed the Rangers what was up by evening the series at two when the series shifted to Tampa after the Rangers led the series at 2-0.

This turned out to be a big mistake. Now, the Rangers are on the brink of elimination after the Lightning put on a masterful road performance, taking a 3-1 Game 5 victory over the Rangers Thursday night at Madison Square Garden to take a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Giving the Lightning a bolt of confidence was the last thing the Rangers needed, but it happened by playing flat in the two games at Tampa. If the Rangers don’t advance to the Stanley Cup Final, go back to those two games at Tampa. They should have upped their game even more on the road.

It was comically amusing to hear Rangers fans talking about a sweep against the Lightning a few days ago. This proved to be ignorant and stupid. This Lightning team knows how to win in the spring for the last two seasons. The Islanders and their fans can attest to that since the Lightning denied both of a Stanley Cup Final.

But this isn’t surprising coming from Rangers fans. They are not really hockey fans. They are just jumping on the bandwagon since it’s a cool thing to do. You couldn’t see a fan in Ranger gear for months in town, and rarely did Rangers fans call up sports radio. That’s all you need to know right there. They got excited and carried away not knowing the Lightning doesn’t remind anyone of the Pittsburgh Penguins or Carolina Hurricanes.

They are now getting an education about the Lightning, and it ain’t pretty.

This Lightning team just step up to another gear in the postseason. The Maple Leafs led the series three times against the Bolts, yet they couldn’t finish them off. The Florida Panthers found out the hard way by getting swept by them. Now, the Rangers may join the list of teams that couldn’t slay the dragon.

The Lightning showed once again why they can threepeat. They were not fazed at all at Rangers fans chanting nonsense at them all night long. They played their game by holding the Rangers in check in the neutral zone. They were patient all night long. They made the Rangers chase them than the other way around. Add all of it up, and what you see was them winning the war of attrition in the end when Ondrej Palat scored on a deflection with 1:50 remaining in the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie.

This is a team that boasts Hall of Famers such as Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Steve Stamkos and Andrei Vasilevskiy. This is a team that has guys that play like stars in the postseason in Alex Killorn, Pat Maroon, Brayden Point and Palat. This Lightning team comes to as close as the Islanders dynasty teams in the early 80s.

Islanders fans could have told Rangers fans about the greatness of the Lightning.

Rangers fans didn’t want to hear it. They couldn’t deal with reality. They got caught up in the moment not knowing this series wasn’t going to be any easier. Again with feeling, this isn’t the Penguins and Hurricanes they are facing anymore. They are playing a team that has been there and done that forever now it seems. To think the Lightning would come out and quit was disrespectful and foolish.

But what can anyone expect when this fanbase whined about the refs giving the Lightning all the calls in Game 5 as a reason their team lost. This is a fanbase that watch the Rangers at the Garden for the sole purpose of getting drunk.

It’s easy to get excited after the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals, but every playoff game is not all the same. Every playoff game has its own story. In the case of the Lightning, that proved to be true.

The Rangers get the chance to flip the script and write their own story in the process. They can win one in Tampa. They found a way to win in Game 7 at Carolina. They rallied from a 3-1 deficit against the Penguins to win the series. Yes, they are now facing a different team, but it can be done, too.

But make no mistake. It will not be easy. The Rangers have to beat the Lightning twice for the right to play the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Final.

Even if the Rangers win at Tampa, there’s no guarantee they can win Game 7 at the Garden. They know that full well as the road team that won Game 7 at Raleigh where the Hurricanes were undefeated in the postseason. They also know the Lightning once won a 2-0 Game 7 against the Rangers at the Garden in the 2015 Eastern Conference finals. In other words, there’s no such thing as a home-ice advantage in Game 7 of any playoff series.

I would go with the Lightning to win Game 7 if it comes down to that since they have been there and done that.

If the Rangers can come back, it enhances their story even more, especially against a team of a great pedigree.

They can make their slogan of “There’s No Quit in New York” into a real thing rather than just a buzzphrase.

Right now, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions are bolted up and better than ever.

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