TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Lightning know what type of effort it will take to finish off the New York Rangers.
The two-time defending champions are one win away from a third straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, where they would continue their bid to become the first team in 40 years to win three consecutive NHL titles.
The Rangers, down 3-2 to the Lightning in the Eastern Conference final, have been especially resilient this postseason.
In addition to overcoming a 3-2 playoff series deficit to eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round, New York rebounded from losing the first two games to Carolina in the second round to oust the Hurricanes in seven games.
Game 6 of the East final is Saturday night at Amalie Arena. The Lightning won Games 3 and 4 on home after dropping the first two on the road.
“We’ve been down 3-2 every series so far, so we’re going to have to have a level of desperation,” Rangers forward Andrew Copp said.
“The confidence of doing it before is bigger and better, having to do it again there’s belief in the room. ... We’re playing pretty good, and it’s a really, really tight series,” Copp added. “We just got to make that extra play at the end of the game to be the difference.”
Since being outscored 9-4 in the first two games at Madison Square Garden, Tampa Bay has won three straight to move to the brink of having a shot at the NHL’s first three-peat since the New York Islanders won four straight championships from 1980-83.
Game 7, if necessary, will be Tuesday night in New York.
The Lightning, who’ve won 10 consecutive series dating to the start of the 2020 postseason, aren’t taking anything for granted.
“We obviously know the fourth one in the hardest one to win. Our mindset has got to be the same as the last three games,” veteran Lightning forward Pat Maroon said.
“We know what’s at stake. We don’t take games off,” Tampa Bay’s Nick Paul added. “(New York) is a really good team. You take a night off, they’re going to take it over. ... There’s no letting off the gas.”
The Rangers are 5-0 this postseason when facing elimination.
They’re 2-7 on the road in the playoffs, but did win Game 6 at Pittsburgh to even that series before prevailing in Game 7 at Carolina to reach the East final.
“We don’t care when we win it, we just want to win it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
“We have a great opportunity (Saturday night) to do that. ... But just because it’s an elimination game, it doesn’t mean we are going to knock them out,” Cooper added. “If we don’t bring our best, it’ll be trouble for us because I know the Rangers will bring their best.”
Rangers coach Gerard Gallant is counting it.
“It’ll be a battle. They’re a good hockey team, that’s why they’re the Stanley Cup champs,” Gallant said. “We have to go in there, play our best game ... win a game and give us a chance for a Game 7 back home.”
Madison Square Garden issued a statement on Twitter, saying two people — one of them a Lightning fan — were victims of an attack following Tampa Bay’s 3-2 victory in Game 4 on Thursday night.
“Last night, an abhorrent assault took place against a Tampa Bay fan at the conclusion of the game — followed by a second assault against an individual who bravely intervened,” the statement, released on Twitter read.
“First, we ensured the victims received appropriate medical care and have followed up to provide support from our guest services team,” the statement added. “Equally important, we are cooperating fully with law enforcement as this is now a criminal matter. The assailant will also be banned from the Garden and all other MSG venues for life.”
AP Sports Writer Vin A. Cherwoo in New York contributed to this report.
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